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The healing power of local places

A blog post by Jamie Ormiston

Jamie Ormiston
Beaches and Parks Officer

Posted 01/06/2020

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The past months have seen us all come to value our local outdoor spaces even more than ever, be that a small balcony, a garden, a park or for those lucky few living by the coast – our beaches. Here our Beaches and Parks Officer, Jamie Ormiston, explores the importance of local outdoor spaces to our health and wellbeing.

The sights, sounds and even smells of my local park are not too dissimilar to parks and green spaces up and down the country.

Step beyond the tree line boundary and you’ll be transported out of a city slowly recovering from weeks of lockdown and into a space which seems to have maintained a resistance to the strains of the world around us. The young couple in matching gilets walking their excitable labradoodle for the third time that day, and the family of four cycling in formation to keep their two-meter distance from other park users. The sound of the river rolling over the top of the weir and bubbling down under the bridge, and the whisper of the wind through an aging oak tree. The smell of the earthy petrichor right after the rain soaks the parched ground, and probably that excitable labradoodle making the most of its freedom with the responsible gileted couple picking up as they go.

Our senses are bombarded in nature and our brain has this amazing ability to process that information and reset the balance. The stresses and strains of being locked inside for hours, days, or weeks on end seem be wiped away as if lifting the grime from an old painting.  Colours become more vivid and depth is created within landscapes. The intricate details lost to decades of stoor complete the vision once more and the painting comes back to life. The positive effects of being outside and interacting with nature are so marked that doctors prescribe time outdoors in nature as a way to improve our mental and physical health.

In Scotland we are incredibly fortunate to have a bountiful bouquet of outdoor space to explore and enjoy. And, I am lucky enough to work with those who manage the best award-winning parks and beaches in the country. There are spaces available to everyone with almost unlimited possibilities for interaction with nature, art, language, and sport. Huge rolling landscapes which draw in those looking for adventure. Nature reserves primed for spotting a woodpecker, tree creeper or lonely shield bug. Accessible parks which offer a relaxed space for everyone to interact with pollinators dancing through wildflowers and herbaceous borders.

And it is not just what is on offer outside, as those who have looked for their nature hit online have recently discovered. Webcams, virtual tours and video blogs have all seen a resurgence in popularity since the governmental restrictions forced us all to become creative in looking for our #OutdoorBehindDoors fix. We have taken solace in these resources as our own abilities to physically experience them ourselves has dwindled. We have become acutely aware of the importance these places have in keeping our perspectives in check.

Where once we have sometimes overlooked local spaces, travelling further afield for our outdoor nature fix, we now breathe them in as if to consume every drop of some healing outdoor power.  Perhaps when things start to return to a more recognisable normal, we need to remember that these local spaces played a part in our recovery, and must not be forgotten again.

The important thing now, and going forward, is that we recognise the part nature plays and give ourselves, and our loved ones, the opportunity to experience it again. Our brain also has the ability to trick us into thinking we are alone in feeling the pressures of everyday life. And our reaction to hearing that others are struggling is to implore them to talk, which can be helpful.  But, sometimes it is not as easy as that. Sometimes all we need is a space to ride the wave.

How do we make the most of what is available to us in Scotland? Public parks and green and blue spaces go a long way to provide everyone with somewhere to reflect and take stock of the unusual situation we are all living through. They provide the perfect space for us to work through a problem or to recalibrate ourselves in order to function, even just for the next few hours.

So, it is important to care for these spaces by using them responsibly and encouraging others to do the same. It is important that we continue to recognise the excellent management by local authorities and communities, of these spaces through our award schemes.

If we look upon these spaces as we look upon ourselves and our own wellbeing, we can see just how important it is to work together to keep them vivid and full of life, colour and meaning.

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