Shift the Stats

“Contact with nature in cities significantly reduces feelings of loneliness, according to a team of scientists Loneliness is a major public health concern, their research shows, and can raise a person’s risk of death by 45% — more than air pollution, obesity or alcohol abuse.”

               ~ Damian Carrington

It is well known that contact with nature is beneficial to our mental and physical health. However, modern life has the effect of limiting, or eliminating, our ability to interact with nature. And, the way we live has curtailed many of the natural experiences we can access.

Journalist Damian Carrington reports on a recent study, “The research found that feelings of overcrowding increased loneliness by an average of 39%. But when people were able to see trees or the sky, or hear birds, feelings of loneliness fell by 28%. Feelings of social inclusion also cut loneliness by 21%, and when these feelings coincided with contact with nature the beneficial effect was boosted by a further 18% … Time spent in nature is known to boost wellbeing, with woodland walks estimated to save the UK at least £185m a year in mental health costs, for example … Natural places in cities could reduce loneliness by enhancing feelings of attachment to a place, or by providing more opportunity to socialise, the researchers said.” 

Even more progress can be made by looking deeper at the opportunities to enhance the natural world we are in contact with. Jacqueline Kehoe quotes conservationist Doug Tallamy, “If half of American lawns were replaced with native plants, we would create the equivalent of a 20-million-acre national park — nine times bigger than Yellowstone.”

She continues, “That’s the idea behind birdscaping, or landscaping your yard to benefit birds — which, in turn, benefits bats, bees, butterflies, and all your region’s flora and fauna. One yard at a time, we can transform our country’s fabric back into a healthier, more sustainable, more wildlife-friendly world.”

Kehoe’s Birdscaping plan involves five steps:

1. Go native.
She explains, “… it’s all about nature. Birdscaping — and going native — is sustainable, climate-resilient, and water-wise to boot … Non-native species offer little to no sustenance for birds and, in worst-case scenarios, can be highly invasive, disrupting your region’s “biota”… To maximize impact, choose plants that offer a variety of foods, from berries and seeds to nuts and nectar (and insects!).”

2. Mix in a little water and sand (just not together!).

“Birds require water for drinking … Some species … bathe in sand or gravel, taking dust baths … ‘Grit’ is also useful for eating, as birds lack teeth and actually ingest things like sand to aid in digestion.”

3. Be conscious of cover.

“Sometimes we all need somewhere to hide. Trees and bushes offer protected sites for nesting; leaf litter is great for foraging and nest material, and dead trees are useful for perching, hunting for insects, and building cavities.”

4. Think year-round.

“Establishing a seasonal sequence of planting a variety of plants in your yard isn’t only nice for the birds — it means your yard’s blooming season will be that much longer and that much better-looking across those calendar pages.”

5. Do what you can with the space you have.

“There is no yard so small it can’t make an impact … But if all you can do is plant native grasses around your mailbox or grow wildflowers on your patio, that counts too.”

Each of us has an impact on the nature that surrounds us. We can decide if that impact is positive or negative. Kehoe notes, “As cities have expanded and native habitats have shrunk and degraded, bird populations have tumbled in tandem. But gardeners and homeowners have the chance to shift the stats.”

It’s spring — what a great time to go make an impact and ‘shift the stats.’

Additional information:

Jacqueline Kehoe, 5 Simple Steps to Birdscape Your Yard, Apr 26 2022, Sierra Magazine

Damian Carrington, Contact With Nature in Cities Reduces Loneliness, Study Shows, Dec 20, 2021, The Guardian

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