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Natural Spaces Vital To Wellbeing

Environmental historian, policy consultant and writer Dr Catherine Knight highlighted the importance of access to nature for human wellbeing to an audience of 80 people in Nelson on Thursday night (March 4).

Catherine Knight at last night’s talk

Drawing on research from her recently published book Nature and Wellbeing in Aotearoa New Zealand , Dr Knight said scientific studies now link time spent in nature or urban green space to a range of wellbeing benefits: lower levels of stress, improved mood, reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety, and improved cognition in children with attention deficits and as well as improved immunity.

Knight argues for the restoration of 'neighbourhood nature' — places that all New Zealanders can freely access, irrespective of their social or economic situation.

“The past year has been tumultuous and difficult for many New Zealanders. Our experience of the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted how important these local oases of nature are, and how vital they are to our wellbeing,” she said. “For those people fortunate to retain some stability in their lives, lockdown was an opportunity to spend time with family, to avoid commuting on congested roads and to work from home, to stay local and to enjoy neighbourhood nature. The lockdown led many of us to realise how important our neighbourhood green spaces are — for walking, cycling, or just getting some fresh, tree-filtered air.”

Dr Knight was invited to Nelson by the Nelson Science Society and the Save the Maitai campaign whose representative Peter Taylor said it was important we didn’t lose sight of nature’s importance in our quest to solve the housing crisis.

“With New Zealanders firmly focused on building their way out of the housing crisis it is easy to overlook the effect sacrificing thousands of hectares of natural space to urban sprawl may have on us in the future.”

Knight agreed, noting that more housing and more nature can be mutually compatible and are not at odds with each other.

“It is about the right type of development in the right place. Many countries around the world integrate nature and healthy, low-impact living into their housing developments, so the blueprint exists. We just need to open our minds to different ways of solving the problem,” she said. “If the Covid 19 pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we need more nature in our lives and across the globe, not less. As we tackle multiple crises - freshwater degradation, biodiversity loss and of course, climate change - there is one solution common to all of these crises, and that is the restoration of nature.”

Dr Knight said spacious natural environments, and green urban spaces were amongst New Zealand’s most unique characteristics that historically had ensured peaceful and idyllic environments for children and adults to prosper. She challenged the audience to consider if they wanted to continue to lose these spaces as we have done throughout our history.

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