Birds, bees and woodland trees: Why engaging with wildlife is good for you

This source preferred by Susanna Curtin

Authors: Curtin, S.

Editors: Burls, A. and Elias, T.

Publisher: Cambridge Scholars Publishing

We are living in a time referred to by scientists as the Anthropocene. This is an era where an exponential growth in human activity exerts the greatest change on the planet by extensive exploitation of land and use of natural resources. A major outcome of this human activity is the loss of habitats and species that will only survive if we actively permit them to do so. The fact that the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN, 2009) has identified more than 17,000 species threatened with extinction is a shocking reminder of the anthropogenic impacts that we have bestowed upon this planet. Without the human will to conserve or protect them, intricate ecosystems and iconic species will continue to disappear forever. The question is, does it matter? Potentially it does. Wildlife is a barometer measuring the state of our planet. Just like the canary in the mine that showed the reduction in oxygen for miners, so too do the small changes in our wildlife become markers of climatic and/or environmental change; change that is already having a detrimental affect on us. This puts environmental sustainability firmly on the human agenda. From treasured garden birds, bees and butterflies, to mega fauna and flora icons such as mountain gorillas, polar bears tigers and mahogany trees, nature matters to us. The aim of this chapter is therefore to explore the ways in which wildlife fascinates us and how engaging with, or watching wildlife in its natural environment, can influence our psychological well-being. It draws upon already published literature as well as anecdotal and qualitative evidence of how the presence of wildlife enhances our experiences such as walking, gardening and travel. It begins by considering our relationship with wildlife, why we find it fascinating and what happens to us when we immerse ourselves into the world of the ‘animal other’.

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