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Get out and Explore Nature on Earth Day
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Get out and Explore Nature on Earth Day

Welcome Spring! After a (very) long winter, signs of spring are (finally) emerging in nature. Spring is also when we celebrate Earth Day, a day intended to inspire Canadians to connect with nature. Connecting children to nature helps get kids away from screens and learn about urban wildlife and their habitats right where they live. Parents can play a vital role in helping kids put down their tablets and video games and take them outside where they can explore and discover nature. Not only does time in nature offer mental and physical health benefits, it will help evoke a child’s natural curiosity, sense of wonder and a lifelong love of nature. Teachers can also provide opportunities for students explore, discover and learn about the natural world, and it can be as simple as exploring their own schoolyard. Students can engage in hands-on learning about local species and habitats through a lens of curiosity about nature and with the confidence to connect with it on their own terms. Not only are they provided with engaging opportunities to learn, they are also provided the opportunity to be physically active, which contributes to a child’s physiological health, cognitive function and mental health.

Exploring nature in the schoolyard

A NatureBlitz (or BioBlitz) is a great activity for educators to engage students in self-directed learning in nature – without having to leave the schoolyard. It’s a time-bound event that focuses on finding and identifying as many species as possible in a given area. It is a great to introduction to citizen science, to learn about and connect with nature. This activity provides an opportunity for students to engage with nature in their schoolyard and learn about urban wildlife and habitats, and hopefully will encourage them to take what they learned and explore nearby nature at home where they live. Nature Canada developed a Do-It-Yourself Toolkit for educators on how to run a NatureBlitz that includes resources and support for nature-based learning. Parents or caregivers can also use the Toolkit as a fun weekend activity in nature. Providing opportunities for children to explore nature can be the best way to celebrate Earth Day this year! Download the NatureBlitz Toolkit  or learn more about ways to reduce screen time and get into nature! Nature Canada's NatureHood program provides children and their families increased opportunities to explore and develop a long-lasting relationship with nature in their communities, and contribute to a healthier lifestyle.

5 Ways to Reconnect with Nature
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5 Ways to Reconnect with Nature

In today’s busy world, it’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the city. In fact, over two-thirds of Canadians live in urban areas, which makes it pretty easy for us to distance ourselves from the great outdoors. While most Canadians agree spending time outside is important, the Coleman Canada Outdoor 2017 Report found that 64% of Canadians surveyed spend less than two hours outside per week. With spring finally upon us, there’s no better time to buck this trend and bring nature back into our lives. With the benefits of spending time outside ranging from reducing stress, lifting our moods, and promoting physical health, here are five easy ways to help you reconnect with nature.

Explore your local parks

You don’t have to go far to reconnect with nature, even visiting your local city park is an excellent way to get back outside. Go for a walk with your family and friends, have a picnic, or toss a frisbee aroundthe possibilities are endless! Most importantly, leave your phone behind so you can be fully present in the great outdoors. Breathe in that fresh air, smell the proverbial roses (maybe a dandelion or two?) and listen to the birds sing!

Join a guided hike

You can even take visiting a park one step further by joining in on a guided hike! Many larger parks, whether national or municipal, have guided hikes put on by nature organizations or community naturalist groups. These are awesome ways to learn from local experts all about the plants and wildlife that call your neighbourhood home. From investigating animal tracking to identifying edible plants, there’s no limit for all the wild things you can learn. Plus, with programs ranging from family hikes to photography walks, there’s something for everyone! Check your local listings to see what’s going on in your neighbourhood.

Find a Sit Spot

The art of sit spots has been long been practiced in Indigenous cultures since time immemorial. It is one of the simplest and most powerful ways to reconnect with nature as it allows you to form a relationship with one particular spot. To pick a sit spot, all you have to do is find somewhere close to your home so you can easily visit it on a semi-regular basis. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, a quiet park bench or in the shade of your favourite backyard tree are great options. Once you’ve picked your spot, all you have to do is be still. Watch the wind in the leaves, breathe in the smell of fresh grass, and watch the bees lazily flit between the stalks. Not only is this an incredibly calming practice, but it also allows you to witness first hand how such a spot can change over time. By carving out these moments of respite in our busy schedules, even if only for a few minutes, sit spots are a fantastic way to reflect, recharge, and reconnect. [caption id="attachment_49474" align="alignnone" width="1024"] A 'Sit Spot', © Brianna Pitt.[/caption]

Go bird-watching

There’s something special about taking a moment to watch the birds soar and sing their days away. To start bird-watching, you can visit a local park or install your own backyard bird feeder to bring the birds to you. These days anyone can easily become a birderwith free birding apps like Audubon and iNaturalist to help identify and record your sightings, bird-watching has never been easier to pick up! As many species are now flying back for the summer, you’ll be surprised by all the different species hiding out in your neighbourhood. You can even make it a challengesee how many birds you and your family can spot!

Plant a garden

There’s no better way to reconnect with nature than getting your hands dirty. Even if you don’t have a backyard to play in, you can join a community garden or start your own potted oasis on your balcony or window sill! While planning your new spread, be sure to use local wildflowers to invite birds and pollinators to your garden. Whether you plot your own personal garden or get the whole family involved, there’s nothing better than working out that green thumb! Featured Image © Mya Van Woudenberg.

Get Outside for Family Day
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Get Outside for Family Day

February may be the shortest month of the year and at times can feel like the longest when winter hits hard. This year most of Canada has felt the effects of the Polar Vortex with cold weather and lots of snow. But the cold weather doesn’t mean you have to stay indoors, and Family Day is a great way to break out of hibernation and embrace nature in winter. With kids spending more time on screens, making time for nature is more important than ever. Time spent in nature and being active outdoors is beneficial to children’s health and overall well-being. Spending time in nature is a great way to connect with family and friends, get moving and reap the health benefits. Here are a few ideas to get you out exploring nature on Family Day:

Explore nearby nature

You don’t need to go far to explore nature. It can be as simple as going for a walk in your neighbourhood and observing how many birds you can see and hear. Bundle up and visit a local nature trail and look for signs of wildlife – watch for tracks in the snow and listen for woodpeckers knocking on trees.

Visit a provincial park

For those who want to venture out farther, many provincial parks have outdoor activities planned and equipment like snowshoes and cross-country skis available for rent. A number of provincial parks have Family Day nature events planned all weekend long.

Join the Great Backyard Bird Count (Feb 15-18, 2019)

Become a citizen scientist for a day and for at least 15 minutes tally the total number and different species of birds you see. You can count from anywhere for as long as you wish. Submit your findings using the easy-to-use app ebird and contribute to bird conservation. No matter what you decide, taking time to get into nature year-round is a great way to unplug and connect with friends and family. For more tips on how to get into nature, download our TIP SHEET!

Making your own suet for birds this winter!
Photo by Barb D'Arpino
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Making your own suet for birds this winter!

Making your own suet for the birds visiting your backyard during winter is a wonderful way to stay connected to nature while still staying warm! This is a simple way to provide another food source for birds to help them out during the long and cold Canadian winters." Below is a simple recipe for suet that will bring feathered friends to your NatureHood! Note that the temperature needs to be cold enough so that suet does not melt.

Simple Suet Recipe for Wintering Birds

Ingredients

2/3 cup coconut oil 2/3 cup black oil sunflower seeds 3 tbsp peanut butter with no salt added 3 tbsp cornmeal

Oats, corn kernels, peanuts out of the shell, and unsalted almond butter can also be added to the mixture.

1) Melt the coconut oil on a saucepan over low heat. 2) Add peanut butter, stir well until blended 3) Turn off stove, add other ingredients and mix well 4) Pour into a low profile pan 5) Once suet is cooled down, cut into cakes that will fit suet feeder 6) Wrap cakes individually to store in freezer.

Et voila! Enjoy the company of nature from the comfort of your home! To learn more about the birds that stay in our backyards over winter, check out our Winter Birds e-Book today!

December Calendar Image: Red Fox
Photo by Brittany Crossman
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December Calendar Image: Red Fox

The Red Fox, also known as Vulpes Vulpes, is a species found around the globe. It’s characteristics allow it to adapt well to human environments and it’s got a reputation for its comical cleverness. Best described as a mix between a coyote and a small dog, it’s known the world over for its sly and sneaky nature. Its sharp and pointed face, and relatively light body, allows for both speed and agility. The fox’s confidence isn’t just folklore, the mammal actually chooses to sleep alone out in the open, keeping itself warm by wrapping it’s long, bushy tail around its body. Settlers originally brought red foxes from Europe into the United States for hunting purposes. Hunting foxes as a sport had been a popular activity in England since the 1500’s, where they were considered vermin, by city-dwellers and farmers alike. Thankfully, today we understand the important part that red foxes play in the ecology of forests and the larger ecosystem. The nocturnal animal is one of Canada’s most wide-spread mammals. Red foxes can be found in every one of Canada’s provinces and territories, as well as across Asia, Europe, North Africa, Australia and the United States. Despite its name, the red fox is not always red in colour. From brown, black to even a silver-tinge, the red fox is a vibrant animal in more ways than one. It’s lengthy, thick tail makes up one-third of its entire body length and it’s fantastic hearing allows the red fox to hear low-frequencies. This superior hearing allows them to catch small, underground prey, such as rodents. Although their hunting preference is using the classic sit-and-wait approach, where they watch their prey intensely before pouncing, they can reach up to 50 km/h running if needed. The red fox has a litter of anywhere between one to ten pups annually. When the pups are around seven months old, they can hunt by themse lves and begin leaving home. Many red foxes have traveled up to 250 km away to find their humble abode, typically making their homes in meadows or wooded areas, although many have habitats in the deserts, the Canadian tundra or grasslands. Once they reach maturity, red foxes weigh in at around 3-14 kg and have a total body length of 90 to over 110 cm. The red fox’s cockiness and cunning has made it known to farmers as a chicken thief, often sneaking onto farmland to indulge in a chicken dinner. Although chicken is a tasty meal, the red fox is an omnivore, so berries and plants are also key staples in its diet. Some foxes have been known to travel over 8 km in a single night to find some. Unlike other wild dogs, foxes are independent and prefer to hunt, eat, and live alone. Maybe it’s during all this free time that they develop their wit? Today, the fox has become a pop culture icon from its role in Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, to the cunning Robin Hood in the 1973 Disney flick. The red fox has an average lifespan of 3-6 years. With a stable population, and ‘least concern’ conservation status, the crafty fox will probably continue to thrive and contrive for a long time.

Reducing Anxiety Through Nature
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Reducing Anxiety Through Nature

Sherry has taken her upbringing in rural Saskatchewan, together with a career in public health, to the "natural" conclusion that time in nature is good for us, physically, emotionally and socially.

Is “fight or flight” a friend or foe?

For millennia, the biological 'fight or flight' reaction has served to protect members of the animal kingdom from harm. It kicks in when there is potential danger; for example, when a rabbit senses a fox.  There is an autonomic cascade of reactions that is activated in the amygdala in the brain.  In turn, it signals the hypothalamus which launches a series of reactions of the sympathetic nervous system.  Adrenaline floods the body causing increased heart rate and respiration.  Glucose goes to the muscles for instant energy; senses are heightened to hear, see and smell danger.  If the threat continues, additional hormones are released, including cortisol, to sustain the stress reaction for longer periods of time[i]. This physiological response enables the "fight"- the buffalo charges the wolf, the blue jay attacks the owl, the mother bear protects her cubs.  In some species it enables the 'flight'- the slap and swim of the beaver, the skittishness of songbirds, the sudden dive of a frog. Quick response to danger is vital to survival of the organism, and ultimately of the species.

The Human Experience

Humans also experience this biological phenomenon when we are stressed. Nowadays, the stress is seldom related to a predator's attack, but we do experience a stress response to difficult life events as well as day to day challenges.  We feel our heart pound, our breathing quicken, our muscles tense, our gut clench. This response helps us respond to emergencies and extract ourselves from uncomfortable situations.  Mild stress can be positive; it heightens our senses, motivates us and improves performance. But what happens when our body stays in a persistent stress response?  We become overly anxious, worried, tense, tired and even depressed.  We experience panic attacks without provocation.  Chronic stress with elevated hormones is hard on our blood vessels and cardiovascular system; it increases the appetite leading to weight gain[ii]. If it reaches a level where it interferes with daily living it can become a clinical anxiety disorder:  phobias, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety, post traumatic stress syndrome, obsessive-compulsive disorder[iii].  According to Statistics Canada 8.6% of Canadians have a diagnosed anxiety disorder[iv].

The Effects of Time In Nature

Time in nature can directly counteract some of the physiological and psychological effects of anxiety.  Research is showing that for healthy individuals time in greenspace contributes to mental health; for those with diagnosed mental illness, including anxiety disorders, time in nature can be an effective component of treatment[v]. Spending time in, or even passively viewing, greenspace, has beneficial psychophysiological effects[vi] by lowering blood pressure, muscle tension, and heart rate.  Cortisol is lower in people when they are in nature.  The Attention Restoration effect reduces some of the mental fatigue of being in protracted fight or flight mode.  Time in nature decreases rumination, which is the persistent recurrence of unwanted negative thoughts[vii].  The affiliated effects of time in nature, in particular increased physical activity and increased social connectedness, in and of themselves, are beneficial in reducing stress and anxiety[viii].

Getting nature in your day

With the hectic holiday period soon upon us, let all of us ensure that we build time in nature into our daily routines.  Walk through the park on the way to work, watch the birds at the feeder for a few extra minutes, get out on the snowshoes in the woods.  Use a natural scene as your computer screensaver, put up some photographs from your camping trip, get some plants or fresh cut flowers for the house, start a nature journal to record thoughts, observations, doodles and poetry. There is some irony that nature where generations of humans experienced “fight or flight” is now our respite from stress. The natural world is balm for the senses; even in the winter, the smell of balsam, the fresh cold on the face, the sound of running water, the serenity of snow covered trees can help us de-stress and calm the anxious mind. Wishing you all time in nature, and may it bring you peace and good health in 2019! Sherry, RN BSN
[i] Harvard Medical School.  Understanding the stress response.  Downloaded on November 8, 2018 from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-the-stress-response [ii] ibid [iii] Canadian Mental Health Association.  Anxiety Disorders.  Downloaded November 9, 2018 from https://cmha.ca/documents/anxiety-disorders [iv] Statistics Canada.  2017. Mental Health Disorders and Life Satisfaction in Canada. Downloaded on November 8, 2018 from https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/11-627-m/11-627-m2017033-eng.htm [v] National Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health. 2015. Summary:  Review of Green Space and Mental Health.  Downloaded October 2016 from http://www.ncceh.ca/sites/default/files/Summary-Greenspace_Mental_Health_Mar_2015.pdf [vi] Beyer, K. M. M., Kaltenbach, A., Szabo, A., Bogar, S., Nieto, F. J., & Malecki, K. M. (2014). Exposure to Neighborhood Green Space and Mental Health: Evidence from the Survey of the Health of Wisconsin . International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 11(3), 3453–3472  Downloaded November 8, 2018 from https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/11/3/3453/htm [vii] Bratman et al. 2015.  Nature experience reduces rumination and subgenual prefrontal cortex activation.  Downloaded May 3, 2018 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4507237/#!po=8.62069 [viii] National Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health. 2015. Summary:  Review of Green Space and Mental Health.  Downloaded October 2016 from http://www.ncceh.ca/sites/default/files/Summary-Greenspace_Mental_Health_Mar_2015.pdf
 

Squirrel! Can nature reduce the symptoms of ADHD?
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Squirrel! Can nature reduce the symptoms of ADHD?

[caption id="attachment_38322" align="alignleft" width="150"] Sherry Nigro[/caption] This blog post was written by Nature Canada guest blogger Sherry Nigro, and is the second in a series of blogs on the effect of nature on mental health. “Squirrel”. Anyone who has a dog knows that this single word will immediately distract them from whatever they were doing.  In fact, a lot of people find that they too, can be easily distracted, impulsive and inattentive, especially if they are tired or stressed.  The consequences can negatively affect academic and job performance, health and safety as well as relationships with others.  For approximately 5% of children and 4% of adults (conservative measures) these are symptoms of a neurodevelopmental illness called attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)[i]. Did you know that time in natural environments can help reduce inattentiveness and improve concentration?

How does it work

Much has been written about the attention restoration affect that time in nature has, since the theory was proposed by Rachel and Stephen Kaplan in the 1980s. It recognizes that periods of extended concentration (such as working on math problems), over stimulation (for example, urban environments) and even under stimulation, are draining and lead to mental fatigue, which in turn can make one easily distracted and unable to focus on the task at hand. In sharp contrast, being in a natural environment requires no intellectual effort, but provides a wrap-around multi-sensory experience.  And most significant, people feel a sense of awe, of being deeply engaged, of being fascinated by the surroundings, that has the most restorative effect.  Who among us has not looked up into a tree canopy with its dancing shades of green, or been mesmerized by water spilling over rocks, or watched a hardworking ant carry a trophy much bigger than itself, and not felt moved? And in turn, refreshed. Subsequent researchers have validated the findings that time in nature can improve attention as noted in a systematic review by Ohly et al, published by the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health[ii]. In addition to short term emotional effects that restore attention and focus, long term exposure to nature can affect brain development in children.  In research published earlier this year, Dadvand et al found that children who lived in urban neighbourhoods with "surrounding greenness" had larger volumes of grey and white matter and also showed better working memory and reduced inattention in cognitive testing[iii].

Reducing the symptoms of ADHD

People with ADHD may show behaviours such as daydreaming, being easily distracted from tasks, talking excessively, interrupting others, being unable to sit still, poor attention to detail and difficulty with multitasking[iv]. The burden is significant at a human and social level with estimates suggesting the cost of ADHD in Canada is 7 billion dollars per year[v]. So not surprisingly, researchers have looked at whether time in nature could improve the symptoms of ADHD. Frances Kuo and Andrea Faber Taylor published strong evidence in the American Journal of Public Health that demonstrated symptoms in children improved, even controlling for residential and individual variables[vi].  Recently, the Lawson Foundation, a philanthropic organization to support the wellbeing of children,  commissioned two systematic literature reviews, one[vii] by the Human Environments Analysis Lab at Western University (lead investigator Dr. Jason Gilliland, child health geographer), and the other by Dr. Robert Gifford, an environmental psychologist, and Dr. Angela Chen at the University of Victoria[viii] which supported the findings that time in nature improved symptoms of ADHD.  (Note that this is complementary to other treatment options such as medication and cognitive therapy).

Applying this to the real world 

It appears that time in nature can be restorative for children and adults, for those with ADHD and those who feel mentally fatigued.  This resonates for me; how many times has a walk in the woods provided clarity of thinking, better focus, and enhanced problem solving?  But a walk, while a great first step is not the only way to add greenness to our lives. This is the fun part.  Let your imagination go wild (many people with ADHD are highly creative, spontaneous, and energetic) as you consider ways to incorporate nature in your day.  Consider active transportation through a park, use natural scenes for wall coverings, take a picnic down to the beach.  Consider the greenness of the neighbourhood when finding a new home.  Schools, universities and workplaces can work to “naturalize” their properties with trees and water.  Green walls (with plants, not paint), and rooftop gardens are also ways to reduce mental fatigue through exposure to nature.  Why not share your ideas? So whether you are trying to make sure your hyperactive 10 year old adjusts to a new school, you are preparing for an exam, or had a heavy few days at work, spend some time to watch the clouds, be amazed by the texture of tree bark, and enjoy the antics of the industrious squirrel in the nearby tree.
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[i] Centre for ADHD Awareness, Canada (CADDAC). Understanding ADHD- ADHD Facts- Dispelling the Myths.  Downloaded July 20, 2018 from http://caddac.ca/adhd/understanding-adhd/in-general/facts-stats-myths/ [ii] Heather Ohly, Mathew P. White, Benedict W. Wheeler, Alison Bethel, Obioha C. Ukoumunne, Vasilis Nikolaou & Ruth Garside (2016) Attention Restoration Theory: A systematic review of the attention restoration potential of exposure to natural environments, Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part B, 19:7, 305-343, DOI: 10.1080/10937404.2016.1196155 [iii] Dadvand et al. 2018. The Association between Lifelong Greenspace Exposure and 3-Dimensional Brain Magnetic Resonance Imaging in Barcelona Schoolchildren. Environmental Health Perspectives.  Downloaded from https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/wpcontent/uploads/2018/02/EHP1876. [iv] CADDAC. Understanding ADHD>In General> Symptoms. Downloaded July 20, 2018  http://caddac.ca/adhd/understanding-adhd/in-general/symptoms/ [v] CADDAC. Understanding ADHD>In General>Socioeconomic Costs.  Downloaded July 20, 2018 from http://caddac.ca/adhd/understanding-adhd/in-general/socioeconomic-costs/ [vi]  Kuo, Frances E., Faber Taylor, Andrea.  2004.  A Potential Natural Treatment for Attention-Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder:  Evidence from a National Study.  American Journal of Public Health.  2004 September: 94(9): 1580-1586.  Downloaded July 10, 2018 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1448497/ [vii] Human Environments Analysis Laboratory. (nd) Children and Nature:  A systematic review.  Downloaded on July 10, 2018 from https://lawson.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Children-Nature-A-Systematic-Review.pdf [viii] Gifford, R., Chen, A.  2016.  Children and Nature:  What We Know and What We Do Not.  Downloaded on July 10, 2018 from  https://lawson.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Children-and-Nature-What-We-Know-and-What-We-Do-Not.pdf

Rediscovering Nature in Your ‘Hood
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Rediscovering Nature in Your ‘Hood

[caption id="attachment_38005" align="alignleft" width="150"] Bob Peart, Chair of Nature Canada.[/caption] This blog was written by Bob Peart, who is the Chair of Nature Canada and the founding Chair of the Child and Nature Alliance of Canada. Bob is a committed advocate for protecting nature and has a life-long passion for sharing his love for nature and getting children and their families reconnected to the outdoors. This post was originally shared on the Children & Nature Network. Children and Nature Network is a global movement to increase access to nature so that children – and natural places – can thrive. The organization was founded by author Richard Louv, who coined the term “nature-deficit disorder” in his bestselling book, Last Child in the Wood, and is a tireless advocate of getting kids outdoors.


As you head out the door today to go to work, run errands or hike with friends, stop for a moment to think about your neighborhood. What does your neighborhood represent?  How important is it to you?

Now consider how your neighborhood and your concept of neighborhood has changed over the years.

I was raised in the 50’s and 60’s. My neighborhood was a street of 20-30 houses, a range of farmers’ fields, a nearby gravel-pit and a good-sized creek. Across the railway tracks was a large city park with baseball fields, picnic tables and a forest with trails. I’d leave the house and be gone for the day roaming around that neighborhood— running through the corn fields, building rafts and hunting for squirrels— and would often end up a couple of miles from my house. My mum and dad weren’t that concerned because I was a pretty good kid. I understood safety (even though I took risks). And if I was going to be late, I could just stop at a nearby house to call home.

[caption id="attachment_38006" align="alignright" width="300"] A female Cardinal, capture by Sandy Thompson.[/caption]

Of course, childhood looks a lot different now. Children today spend 90% of their time indoors. While I could identify most local plants and animals as a child, today most children can’t name the five most common birds. I rarely watched television; children today spend up to seven hours a day in front of a screen. As childhood has migrated indoors, our sense of neighborhood has changed drastically. Today, children often don’t know their neighbors. And they seldom even leave the safety of their backyard, never mind roam the neighborhood.

These trends continue despite increasing literature and knowledge about the negative effects of a lack of outdoor time on an individual’s mental, physical and spiritual health.

To counter this trend, Nature Canada has developed a program called NatureHood— or nature in your ‘hood. The goal of NatureHood is to connect urban children and families with nearby nature in their neighborhoods, right where they live. Working closely with local organizations across the country, Nature Canada’s NatureHood program provides children and families opportunities to explore, play and develop a long-lasting relationship with nature in their communities through a variety of nature-based activities and events. NatureHood aims to inspire children with a sense of wonder and appreciation for nature, and ultimately help to foster the next generation of nature lovers and future leaders to protect natural places.

Programs like NatureHood are increasingly important as people increasingly move into cities, where nearby nature is hard to find.

Imagine that, in thirty years, 80% of us will be living in urban landscapes, with most of us in mega-cities of 20 million or more. What will our connection with nature and our neighborhood be like then? Without a conscious effort, the connection to nature could be lost.

Nature conservation begins when we are young, in association with the neighborhoods where we grow up. We need to increasingly introduce urban children and families to nature-based activities close to home: in their ‘hood! It is essential that we promote urban parks and treed streetscapes. These outdoor activities will lead to a sense of belonging, perhaps a sense of neighborhood. The connection to nature brings a value set that respects the environment and the need to protect it, which brings with it the health-related benefits we all need, plus hope for the future.

It seems pretty clear that being outside in nature must once again become an essential part of our family dynamic and cultural identity.  There is perhaps no better place for that than in our local nature ‘hoods.


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Celebrate Canada’s Parks Day!
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Celebrate Canada’s Parks Day!

[caption id="attachment_37287" align="alignleft" width="150"] Jill Sturdy, NatureHood Program Manager.[/caption] There are so many reasons to spend time outdoors and explore in nature. It’s a great way to connect with nature and learn about local biodiversity. There is more and more research exposing the physical and mental health benefits of spending time in nature. Simply put, exploring nature is good for you and good for your soul. What’s more is you don’t need to go far to get into nature. In fact, our NatureHood program is all about that: exploring nature right where you live. Watch and listen to the birds in your neighbourhood. How many species can you identify? Early morning is the best time, as that’s when birds are most active. Find out how you can attract birds and other wildlife to your yard – it can be as simple as planting native flowers to attract butterflies. Learn more about ways you can be a good neighbor to wildlife here. Another way to get out into nature is to go for a hike at your local nature trails. Make sure you familiarize yourself with the plants you shouldn’t touch! Hint: poison ivy thrives along trail edges – another good reason to stick to the trails! Summer is also a great time to venture out a little farther and explore our beautiful parks! Saturday, July 21 is Canada’s Parks Day – a day to celebrate our parks and all that they have to offer. Depending where you live in the country, you won’t have to go far to get to a park.

Summer is short so get out and explore! What’s your favourite nature-based activity?


Here are just a couple of examples of park initiatives happening next weekend: Healthy by Nature is an initiative developed by the BC Parks Foundation. They are promoting Parks Day by encouraging people to join a family-friendly walk in one of BC’s provincial parks on July 21st. Healthy Parks Healthy People is an initiative developed by Ontario Parks to promote the link between a healthy environment and healthy society. On Friday, July 20, ALL of Ontario provincial parks will offer FREE day-use to encourage Ontarians to explore a provincial park near them.
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The Connection between Nature and Mental Health
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The Connection between Nature and Mental Health

The benefits of spending time in nature are endless. Daily contact with nature has a positive impact on our social, psychological and physical health, and is an important factor to keep us connected to our natural environment. In the last few decades humans have become more sedentary, and less inclined to spend time in nature. This is causing a disconnect with nature, and with our own well-being. This week, to celebrate Mental Health Week in Canada, we are discussing the impact of nature on your mental health.


How nature affects mood

The National Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health reports that there are several pathways by which time in nature improves mood- by reducing stress both physiologically and through attention restoration, by increasing physical activity and by increasing social contact with others.[i]  Additionally, scientists have demonstrated changes in brain activity and reduced rumination following a walk in nature.  Rumination is a preoccupation with negative thoughts and is associated with depression.[ii] Participants of the David Suzuki 30x30 challenge (30 minutes daily for 30 days) reported better moods, more energy and vitality as well as increased fascination ( which is researcher speak for a sense of awe and affinity with the natural world).[iii]

Take that black dog for a walk in the woods

Winston Churchill suffered from periods of depression or melancholy throughout his life; he referred to this as the "black dog".  Statistically, he was in good company as depression is a common disorder and is considered the leading cause of disability globally.[iv]  In Canada over ten percent of youth have had a depressive episode and eight percent of adults will experience depression in their lifetime.[v]  But the simple act of spending even short amounts of time in nature can improve moods, even in people who have been diagnosed with a mood disorder.[vi] [vii]

Complementary therapy

This is not to say that nature can replace the traditional pharmacology and psychotherapy treatments for depression.  However, it does suggest that everyone, including those who suffer from depression would benefit from access to green spaces.  This includes living in proximity to nature; a study in the U.K. of disadvantaged pregnant women found that higher residential greenness was associated with reduced depressive symptoms.[viii]

Quality matters

The benefits of time in nature are proportionate with the quality of the green space, the amount of time spent there and the level of immersion (active, such as green exercise is more effective than passive, say, looking out a window).  Therefore, it behooves us to champion the creation and protection of accessible, biodiverse natural areas where we live, work and play.

So whether you have a "black dog" in your life or just had a bad day, think about going outside for a healthy dose of nature!


For more information on Mental Health Week in Canada, please consult the Canadian Mental Health Association Centre website.Sources [i] National Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health.  2015.  Green space and Mental Health: Pathways, impacts and gaps.  Downloaded on April 16, 2018 from http://www.ncceh.ca/sites/default/files/Full_Review-Greenspace_Mental_Health_Mar_2015.pdf [ii] Bratman et al. 2015.  Nature experience reduces rumination and subgenual prefrontal cortex activation.  Downloaded May 3, 2018 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4507237/#!po=8.62069 [iii] Nisbet, Elizabeth K.  2015. Answering Nature's Call- Results of the 2015 David Suzuki Foundation's 30x30 Nature Challenge.  Downloaded Sept. 23, 2017 from https://davidsuzuki.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/results-2015-david-suzuki-foundation-30x30-nature-challenge.pdf [iv] World Health Organization. 2018. Depression.  Downloaded May 3, 2018 from http://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/depression [v] Canadian Mental Health Association. 2013.  Fast facts about Mental Illness.  Downloaded May 3, 2018 from https://cmha.ca/about-cmha/fast-facts-about-mental-illness [vi] Capaldi, CA, Passmore, H., Nisbet, EK, Zelenski, J., Dopko, R.  2015.  Fourishing in Nature:  A Review of the Benefits of Connecting with Nature and Its Application as a Wellbeing Intervention.  International Journal of Wellbeing, Vol 5, No. 4.  Downloaded Oct. 3, 2017 from https://internationaljournalofwellbeing.org/index.php/ijow/article/view/449 [vii] National Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health.  2015.  Green space and Mental Health: Pathways, impacts and gaps.  Downloaded on April 16, 2018 from http://www.ncceh.ca/sites/default/files/Full_Review-Greenspace_Mental_Health_Mar_2015.pdf [viii] McEachern, RRC, Prady, SL, Smith, G. Et al.  2015.  The association between green space and depressive symptoms in pregnant women: moderating roles of socioeconomic status and physical activity. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, Volume 70, Issue 3.  Downloaded on April 20, 2018 from http://jech.bmj.com/content/70/3/253.long

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