This Mental Health Awareness Week (13-18 May), Butterfly Conservation’s Vice President Dr Amir Khan explains how connecting with nature can help nurture your wellbeing and shares his top tips to embrace wild wellness wherever you are.

I am an avid champion of the health benefits of nature – both physical and mental – and have been for many years. Being outside in green spaces and taking the time to engage with what’s around me – the sound of a breeze through the trees, the smell of the flowers I’ve planted for butterflies and bees, and, of course, the buzzing and fluttering of the pollinators themselves – makes me feel hopeful, calm, and inspired. It has the power to lift my mood instantly.

Connecting with nature is not only an important way I take care of my own mental wellbeing, but I’ve also seen how it can transform the lives of my patients. Butterfly Conservation recently shared the results of a study they carried out in collaboration with the University of Derby, which showed that counting butterflies for just 15 minutes can reduce anxiety by almost 10%.

So, with science proving that even a small amount of time spent connecting with the natural world can have a huge benefit, there really is no better time to let nature nurture you. This Mental Health Awareness Week, follow my top tips for getting out (or even staying in) to give your wellbeing a boost.

1) Go on a nature walk

Whether you live in the country, town, or city, find your nearest local green space and head out for a walk. Slow your step and take your time, stop to check out flowers and plants, see who might be hiding under rocks, gaze into a pond, or watch the skies to spy what might be flying past. If you don’t have a green space near you, you might be amazed at the wildlife you can spot in the margins. Dandelions and “weeds” growing up through cracks in a pavement can still be well-loved by insects, a single tree can still be a haven for birds – make it your mission to take a closer look and see where wildlife is thriving in your area. You might just be surprised!

2) Create a Wild Space

For those who want to stay closer to home, try creating a Wild Space and bringing nature to you! You don’t need a massive area to create a place where butterflies, moths and other wildlife can thrive. Window boxes on a balcony or pots on a patio full of nectar-rich plants are more than enough to bring the pollinators in. You can also add pots full of plants loved by caterpillars so you can help butterflies and moths through their whole lifecycle. For those with larger areas, like gardens and community spaces, leaving areas to go wild with patches of long grass, adding log piles, and creating ponds can make a huge difference in attracting wildlife. Gardening is also another proven way to improve your mental wellbeing, so get your hands dirty and get digging for a double boost!

3) Engage your senses

Whether on a walk or when enjoying your Wild Space, a good way to connect to nature is to engage your senses. Take a moment and answer each of these questions:

What is one thing you can see? It could be the bright green of a leaf dancing in the breeze, or a flash of yellow from a Brimstone butterfly - think about the colours and shapes you are seeing.

What is one thing you can hear? Is there a bird calling or wind rustling through leaves? Is it loud or quiet?

What is one thing you can feel? Maybe you can feel the roughness of a rock you’ve lifted, a breeze on your face, or the warmth of a cup of tea in your hands. Tune in to the different sensations.

What is one thing you can smell? You might have added fresh herbs like Thyme to pots for caterpillars, or pass a hedge covered in Honeysuckle. Tune in to what you can smell.

What is one thing you can taste? Is the air salty or sweet, can you get a sense of the flavour of blossoming fruit trees? Or perhaps you’ve just tasted some freshly grown produce from your allotment or veg patch whilst watching butterflies flitting around wild borders at the edge. 

This is all about engaging your senses to create deeper awareness, moments of mindfulness and to switch off from the daily noise. Allow yourself to feel peace and calm through a connection with the natural world around you.

4) Get creative

Rainy day? Or perhaps you’re just looking to stay indoors? Get creative and create some nature art. (This is a fun thing to do with children too!) Use natural items that you’ve found on walks to create pictures, draw/paint/sculpt species you’ve seen, or do a bit of nature-inspired mindful colouring.

5)    Make it count

Sitting or standing in one place and taking note of the wildlife you spot can be a very meditative process. We know that those taking part in the Big Butterfly Count, where you spend 15 minutes counting butterflies and day-flying moths, saw reduced anxiety and an improved connection to nature so why not give it a practice run during Mental Health Awareness week and see how you feel!

This year, the Big Butterfly Count takes places from 12 July until 4 August, so add the dates to your diary. Can’t wait until July? You can count and record butterflies and moths all year round – set yourself a goal of spending 15 minutes in your Wild Space or local green area and note down which butterflies or moths you see. You can use Butterfly Conservation’s handy ID guides and record them here.

Nature has the power to help us calm our minds from the busy world around us if we let it. With spring in full bloom, there’s never been a better time to get outside, see what you can spot, and put yourself first. I’ve experienced the transformational power of feeling connected with the natural world, it’s free, it’s easy and it will boost your mental wellbeing, what’s not to like about that!

Dr Amir Khan
Vice President, Butterfly Conservation