10 ways to reconnect with nature this autumn

Children looking at leaves and insects collected in a glass jar

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Studies suggest we are becoming disconnected from wildlife, and losing the benefits. So how can we get back to nature this autumn?

According to a RSPB report published last week, four in five 8-12 year old children in the UK are no longer connected with nature.

The study adds to growing concerns that children are becoming vulnerable to 'nature deficit disorder', a phrase first used by Richard Louv in his 2005 book Last Child in the Woods.

His hypothesis was that humans, especially children, are spending less time outdoors, resulting in a wide range of behavioural problems.

To counter this trend, this weekend sees the launch of Project Wild Thing - a film commissioned by an initiative of organisations called The Wild Network - which aims to get kids back outdoors.

So what are the easiest ways to get back to nature this autumn?

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One approach, says RSPB conservation policy officer Phil Burfield, is to inspire a child by getting out there and showing them autumn's simple pleasures.

"It might be jumping in puddles, kicking up leaves, or listening to birds singing from the tops of trees," he told BBC Nature.

"But most of all, it's about having fun."

Autumn offers a range of wildlife treats; leaves changing colour, explosions of fungi, migrant birds such as waxwings and swans arriving, collecting conkers, watching starlings' mesmerising murmurations to name a few.

Studies suggest such interactions can improve our mental function, reduce aggression and alleviate depression.

Start Quote

I guess Project Wild Thing is my journey to understand what the brand product benefits are of nature and then communicate those to parents and children.”

End Quote David Bond, filmmaker

In 2012, a study showed that people scored 50% better on a creativity test after spending four days backpacking disconnected from electronic devices, according to US-based psychologists from the University of Utah and University of Kansas.

But you don't have to be in a wilderness for nature to have an impact. A simple walk in the park to enjoy the leaves changing colour during a lunch break can be beneficial.

Research published earlier this year showed "reductions in arousal, frustration and engagement, and an increase in meditation," when people entered a park environment compared with built-up areas in urban Edinburgh.

"All of us can be guilty of thinking that nature is only in certain places and that tarmac and bricks and dense urban environments mean nature's not there," said Lorna Fox, site and projects manager for the London Wildlife Trust.

"But… nature is actually everywhere and as soon as you step through your front door, you're outside."

So why are we becoming more distant from nature? Some say it's because we work longer hours, or rely more on technology. Others speculate that people increasingly think the outdoors is unsafe, or that people no longer understand the benefits nature can bring.

It's important "people value the beauty and the variety of the natural environment," says Dame Helen Ghosh, director general at the National Trust. "So that as a nation, for the future, we care about looking after that and handing it on to the next generation."

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But a study published this week warns that people need more immediate rewards to invest in long-term conservation.

"It's not enough simply to point to the benefits future generations will enjoy," says Jochem Marotzke from the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, in Hamburg, Germany, one of the authors of the study.

"Climate protection will only be effective if the people making the effort will also be able to obtain a short-term material benefit from doing so."

This is something the filmmaker behind Project Wild Thing, David Bond recognised: "I guess Project Wild Thing is my journey to understand what the brand product benefits are of nature, and then communicate those to parents and children."

Engaging with nature may lead to better social interactions, suggests Ms Fox.

"There's something about being engaged outdoors that means that people are engaged with doing something with their hands, doing something with exploring, with their eyes, with their ears, maybe smell is included," she told BBC Nature.

"And it means that they engage more with each other as well."

Stop, look and listen!

Whether it's 10 seconds watching falling autumn leaves or 10 minutes birdwatching, take some time out to notice the wildlife around you.

Read more in Chris Packham's wildlife challenge.

Take a walk in the park

Autumn is a brilliant season for taking a walk in the park to get a quick nature fix.

If you don't recognise anything you see, take a quick snap with your smartphone and upload it to the iSpot website where someone will be able to help identify it.

Use your other senses

We rely heavily on our sight so one of the simplest ways of reconnecting with our natural world is to use our other senses: touch the bark of a tree, listen out for autumn migrant birds such as redwings, smell the damp autumnal leaf litter.

Read more of urban birder David Lindo's wildlife challenge.

Make space for nature

Give wildlife a home. Put up a birdbox, leave a pile of sticks, twigs and leaves for reptiles, amphibians and insects, build a home for hedgehogs or make an insect hotel.

Find out how to give wildlife a home.

Feed your local wildlife

Autumn is when animals must fatten up for the leaner times ahead in winter. Put out some food, and watch what wildlife comes to feed.

Read some top tips on how to attract birds, hedgehogs, voles and more.

Take time for trees

Even in urban worlds, trees are common. As the leaves fall this autumn, collect different ones and see which you can identify.

Read more of Gordon Buchanan's wildlife challenge.

Enter the world of water

Provide a small amount of water in the form of a perfect pond or bog garden. A host of creatures will benefit and move in for you to enjoy throughout the year.

Read more in Philippa Forrester's wildlife challenge.

Take part in a wildlife survey

As you're walking round and spotting wildlife this autumn, all that information could help scientists understand what's going on with our wildlife.

Discover how your observations can help by adding them to a wildlife survey going on this autumn.

Look out for tracks and signs

Autumn means rain and soggy ground. This is the perfect time to follow tracks and signs of wildlife we don't normally see.

Find out how and what to look out for in Ellie Harrison's wildlife challenge.

Become a volunteer

This involves the most amount of input but also gives back the most when it comes to reconnecting with nature.

Find out more in Iolo Williams' wildlife challenge.

Discover what life is like for wildlife volunteers.

Do you feel connected with nature? And what are your favourite autumn memories? Tell us by sharing your wildlife stories on Facebook and Twitter @BBCNature

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