Conservation Comment: Addressing our nature deficit

By Peter frost

Disconnect: Where will you spend your holiday - being hustled in a big city or by a bird in the forest?
Disconnect: Where will you spend your holiday - being hustled in a big city or by a bird in the forest?

What do you plan to do this summer? How will you relax?

For many, summer means an opportunity to get away, often to distant parts of the country, to swim, fish or tramp.

For others, their preference is to head for the bright lights and bustle of the shopping malls and amusement arcades of a big city, not necessarily even in New Zealand. (Singapore would be my favourite, but even there I'd be heading for its botanic garden and the Jurong Bird Park.)

Note the contrast. Some of us prefer to get away from our bricks-and-mortar work environment and reconnect, however fleetingly, with the natural world; others choose to head, like moths to a flame, for the glitz and glamour of the modern urban environment.
Who will be the more relaxed and refreshed on return?

Will it be the soul who spends time soaking up natural sounds and silences, or will it the person who ends up hustling and bustling their way through city crowds like some particle in Brownian motion?

And what about the children? Will they come home invigorated, stimulated by qualitatively new experiences, or will their gain be simply quantitative, more of the same?

The journalist Richard Louv introduced the term "nature-deficit disorder" to describe a growing trend among many of us, but particularly children, to be spending more time indoors, tied to our electronic devices and the faux neighbourhoods of social media.

He argued that this was leading to growing separation - both physically and psychologically - of people from nature, which in turn is leading to increased stress, reduced attention spans, anxiety and depression.

It may be a trend that is currently more apparent overseas than in New Zealand, where outdoor activities are still popular. But beware.

Sport New Zealand, in a report on trends in adult participation in sport and active recreation nationally from 1998 to 2014, revealed that weekly involvement declined from around 73 per cent in 1998 to just over 65 per cent in 2014.

The largest fall, just under 14 per cent, was among those less than 24 years old.
Lack of time and cost were cited as the main barriers across all groups except the elderly, where poor health or physical disability were constraints.

Can we counter this? Sitting on our doorstep, little more than 20 minutes' drive from Whanganui, is Bushy Park, a stunning native forest reserve supporting threatened species that you'll be hard-pressed to see easily elsewhere.

It is a public good - something that all can freely share and enjoy - one that continues to be developed by a group of committed volunteers generously supported by Forest and Bird, Rotary North (Whanganui), Horizons, DoC and others. (The small entry fee covers the costs of the maintaining visitor facilities around the historic homestead.)

As a visitor, you can relax and take your time as you walk through the reserve. Birds such as the North Island robin, the highwaymen of the forest, will usually waylay you, expecting you to scuff the ground, uncovering the bugs on which they feed. Saddleback or tieke are also often encountered as they work their way through the forest searching for grubs.

Hihi or stitchbird, a third threatened species, can be seen at the sugar-water feeders along the public walking tracks.

To feel the pulse of forest, stop often, look and listen.

But why not become a volunteer?

It need not be an ongoing commitment. Even just a few days over summer can give you a chance to recharge those batteries, mentally and physically (see http://www.bushyparksanctuary.org.nz/sanctuary-support/become-a-volunteer).

More than that, you'll be helping to conserve your heritage, and that is surely an inspiring option.

Peter Frost
Peter Frost

Peter Frost is an environmental scientist working as a volunteer at Bushy Park to help conserve our native biodiversity.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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