In the weeks since our ‘In The Sticks’ project has been live, we have been privileged to see poems submitted which explore deeply personal relationships with nature and the countryside. We’ve seen nature evoking family memories, nature providing comfort, and nature helping heal the wounded.
The effects of spending time in the countryside on wellbeing and mental health are well documented. Mental health charity Mind states that ‘spending time in nature has been found to help with mental health problems including anxiety and depression’, and ‘ecotherapy’ has grown as a way for people to engage with the natural world as a healing influence.
During lockdown in the UK, many people were unable to access natural spaces which they ordinarily enjoyed. For some, separation from the countryside is more than just a nationwide lockdown. Barriers can be physical or mental, such as inadequate disabled access, or fear of getting lost. For some, finance and where they live prevent them from being able to easily travel to natural beauty spots. Some barriers are cultural or domestic, such as having to complete chores and errands before taking personal time.
A study published by Natural England found that groups less likely to visit the countryside included young people, disabled people, people of colour, and those living in inner city environments. DEFRA found that only 1% of visitors to national parks were black or Asian. Both agree that improvements to information, outreach, and accessibility would help welcome a greater diversity of people into the countryside. These patterns have not gone unnoticed, and groups such as Black Girls Hike and Accessible Countryside for Everyone are providing safe spaces and information to encourage others who have faced challenges enjoying the countryside.
Some of the poetic responses we’ve had to our In The Sticks prompts have dealt with separation from the countryside, and a yearning for it. In this touching poem, Santosh K Dary explores the need to escape into nature, but needs to hide the fact.
I lied I wasn’t well
to get away from everything.
To walk, think, sort and dwell
in lanes shaded by leaves of spring.
Vibrant nature beckons to me,
to calm my troubled mind,
lift my spirit, feel carefree,
and leave the chaos behind.
I want to feel the sun through trees,
listen to the melody of birdsong
that sweetens the air with ease,
while I stroll in woods day long.
To lean against a gnarled old tree,
where lovers had left their mark;
bask in energy that surrounds me,
feel happy as a tuneful lark.
Hard to explain the ‘me time’ need,
to walk the woods and feel the spell,
no reasons found to go with speed,
so I lied, and said I wasn’t well.
Santosh K Dary
Meanwhile, Kuli Kohli – who has written in the past about how her disability impacts her relationship with nature – paints a vivid picture of a river, imbued with such idyllic details that it feels dream-like and unobtainable.
Splattered watercolours on earth’s canvas,
swaying in the tall grasses,
where grasshoppers and mayflies spring.
Along the riverside fishermen like herons,
silent, they wait, wait, wait…
watch flashes of turquoise taking their catch.
Upstream, salmon practise their leaping skills
as they swim against the flow,
home to darting midges, drifting dragonflies.
Hidden between hedgerows, sparrows chirp
as butterflies, honeybees take turns
to drink wildflower nectar – intoxicating haze.
House martins swoop like daytime bats,
in the willows wagtails twitch;
chocolate-headed gulls follow the river.
We’ve spent the last few weeks focusing on Brindley Village on Cannock Chase, and the complex relationship humans have had with the area. This is a place where nature has returned after human habitation, even more abundantly than beforehand. But what happens when habitats are taken away, even temporarily?
As we move into autumn, we’ll be looking in more depth at the impact of forestry, and finding out more about the Wyre Forest. Like any agricultural activity, there are benefits to people who live in and rely on the countryside. How do we weigh these up with the problems of removing the natural world from people and animals? Keep an eye on our website and social media over the next few weeks to find out.