The Positive Impacts of Exploring the Natural WorldOctober 25, 2021
During lockdown, many people have found themselves restricted to their homes or with limited travel options for an extended period of time. This has created the opportunity for many to make discoveries on what nature holds for them right on their doorstep. For some, this discovery can be of new knowledge on biodiversity and the animals that live around us. For example, the Australian Museum during the lockdown of 2020, received a new record of a threatened Red-Crowned Toadlet due to the effort of a citizen scientist1. Others have discovered new viewpoints and information on their hometowns and cities they had never known before. American citizens during the original lockdown of 2020 discovered the existence of the New York City Tree Map, which has a record of every tree and important information on it within that city2. Lastly, sometimes the discovery can be on the health benefits of nature that you never knew existed. Spending time in nature has been known to positively impact your emotional wellbeing3. So, during these trying times, it may be time for you to rediscover the nature that lies at your door. By stepping out into nature, you can make your own discoveries, and realise a whole new perspective of looking at things, and the knowledge and benefits you can take away from it.
Why Explore Outside?
By spending time outside in the smells, sounds, and images of nature, can have amazing effects on our health. Specifically, spending time in nature has proven to have positive effects on mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing3. Spending time outdoors in nature can also improve negative emotional states and reduce mental exhaustion3. Nature can also have positive impacts on stress, anxiety, depression, and even increased immunit3. It is amazing that simply by regularly spending time outside, this action can overall improve your wellbeing.
In the context of covid-19 and lockdown, recent studies conducted during the first lockdown of 2020, proved that those who visited and actively engaged with nature had lower stress and negative symptoms associated with psychological distress4. This supports the psychological benefit that engagement with nature can have, particularly during a time of increased stress. Finding ways to engage with nature on a regular basis can help your own wellbeing, but if you take the time, can actively promote nature around you.
Not only can engaging with nature help your health and wellbeing, actively being a part of nature and being aware of your surroundings can benefit the world in more ways than you might realise. Engaging with nature and working together with others can create a community of individuals who are actively working to promote and discover what animals and plants lie just outside our door, and to support research into knowing our world better. For example, extensive work has been carried out by many to aid research into animal discoveries through citizen science, while others have found opportunities to improve nature in their garden to promote biodiversity5,6.
Engage with Nature by Bushwalking
Bushwalking has been known to have direct health impacts on you, such as decreasing the risk of diabetes and heart disease, and increasing positive mental health and happiness7. Going bushwalking and exposing yourself to nature can even boost your immunity7. Phytoncides, or commonly more well known as wood essential oils, have been known when breathed in, to increase the number of natural killer cells in your body7. These natural killer cells are a vital part of your immune system response7. So, stepping out of the house, and immersing yourself in our local nature and forests can improve both your emotional and physical self, and can even provide a boost to your immune system’s abilities.
While you may not have access to large forests, even taking the trip to a local park, or immersing yourself in the sounds of nature can have similar effects7. But even in cities, there are many bushwalking tracks of varying difficulty to choose from. Googling for tracks in your area will reveal a wide array of choices available.
How to Engage in Nature with Citizen Science
Citizen science is where the public can assist and contribute to scientific research efforts8. There are many benefits to those that engage with citizen science. These can include; increased understanding of science in the world around you, increase in knowledge and consideration of new skills and career pathways, keeping you active and provides an opportunity to get out of the house, as well as a sense of accomplishment when contributing information9. Some of the easiest ways to access citizen science platforms are through apps such as iNaturalist and Questagame9.
These apps can be downloaded from the app store on your device10. You may choose to be a part of a targeted project that is looking at a specific animal group or location, or you can choose to submit any image you want of an animal or plant to the database10. These photos of animals and plants can then be identified by someone else, meaning you don’t need to have any scientific knowledge to participate10. By doing this, this is an easy way to begin to learn about your surroundings, contributing to biodiversity and animal and plant studies, in a fun way while spending time in nature.
While it may not seem like you are doing much by submitting photographs of what you find in your backyard, these images can contribute to important research and understanding of our surroundings, and even result in the discovery of new species. For example, a new spider species was discovered in Australia through the submission of an image and identification efforts in Questagame app5. This spider was dubbed the exclamation point spider5. But during this same competition (research effort on citizen science apps aimed at specific animals or within a specific timeframe) of 2017, 6 other new species of spider were also discovered5. There is also a possibility that if you discover a new species, your name can be attached to that discovery forever5. So, by learning about the natural world around you, and by snapping a photo here and there, you can contribute to research and maybe even discover animals that we didn’t know existed.
Working with Nature in Your Backyard
Backyards and many spaces that are available to you can be used to promote Australian biodiversity. Even in locations with limited space such as in cities, working to provide animals with plants and shelter can help to improve the nature that surrounds you. One simple way to start is by increasing the variety of plants that you have available in your backyard, specifically make sure to create variety by using different shapes and sizes6. Depending on the animal, they can need a specific plant with its own benefits (such as short size for shelter) or a variety that are either trees, ground cover, or smaller plants6. Using a variety of these plant types will help to promote a variety of animals, and will create a well-rounded space for animals to enjoy.
Despite our desire to often make our gardens look very neat and controlled, don’t be afraid to plant them together, as this creates shelter for the animals in your garden6. You can also target the specific animals you would like to attract to your garden. An example of this is you can do this by increasing flowering plants with higher levels of pollen, which can increase the number of insects and birds in your garden6. Also, by growing trees, this will create perches for birds in your backyard6. If you are looking to support even more animals living in your garden, you can support frogs by building them a pond6. This will also attract other wildlife such as insects and birds6. By taking these steps, and starting to look at what you can do to increase nature on your balcony, backyard, or in whatever space you can, can help to improve biodiversity and support animals near your home and create a wonderful space for you.
By actively engaging with and taking an interest in the nature around you, you can find numerous different benefits. These may include positively impacting your health, increasing your knowledge on animals and biodiversity, or improving your own space to promote wildlife and increase nature. There are many benefits that nature can provide, we just have to take the time to step out into nature and enjoy what it has to offer.
 Farley Fitzgerald. Australian Museum. Increase in Citizen Scientists during COVID-19. https://australian.museum/about/organisation/media-centre/increase-citizen-scientists-during-covid-19/
 Rebecca Long. The Guardian. ‘Revel in the grubby wilderness’: how to spot nature from lockdown. (June 2020). https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jun/25/urban-nature-wildlife-windows-stoops-parks-pandemic
 Catherine Knight. The Conversation. Spending time in nature has always been important, but now it’s an essential part of coping with the pandemic. (March 2021). https://theconversation.com/spending-time-in-nature-has-always-been-important-but-now-its-an-essential-part-of-coping-with-the-pandemic-153073
 News Medical. Study shows the benefit of natural spaces for mental health during lockdown. (June 2021). https://www.news-medical.net/news/20210617/Study-shows-the-benefit-of-natural-spaces-for-mental-health-during-lockdown.aspx
Hailer Renault. ABC News. New spider species discovered by citizen scientists using Australian conservation app. (January 2018). https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-01-05/seven-new-spider-species-discovered-by-gamers/9303710
 Department of Planning, Industry and Environment. NSW Government. Backyards for nature. (September 2020). https://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/get-involved/sydney-nature/gardens/backyards
 Belinda Smith. ABC News. Bushwalking is really good for you. Sure, it’s relaxing — but it boosts your biology too. (February 2018). https://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2018-02-05/nature-park-forest-immune-system-inflammation-mental-health/9387714
 National Geographic. Citizen science. https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/citizen-science/
 The University of Sydney. The power of citizen science across Australia and beyond. (June 2020). https://www.sydney.edu.au/science/news-and-events/2020/06/23/the-power-of-citizen-science.html
 Victorian Environmental Water Holder. Great citizen science apps to engage your community. (December 2019). https://www.vewh.vic.gov.au/news-and-publications/stories/great-citizen-science-apps-to-engage-your-community
2021 – Science Explained