Richard Louv is the best-selling author of ‘Last Child in the Woods’ (Algonquin Books 2005). In it he coins the term “Nature Deficit Disorder” to describe the multiple harms that come from living a life devoid of nature: lives that are increasingly common in our urbanized, digital age.
Louv has just published another book ‘Vitamin N: The Essential guide to a Nature-Rich Life.’ (Algonquin Books 2016) in which the benefits of Vitamin N, or nature, are clearly set out.
Here are my top four. What are yours? I’d love to hear from you.
· Vitamin D production. Vitamin D is a soluble vitamin naturally present in very few foods. It is produced when ultra-violet rays from sunlight strike the skin and trigger its synthesis in our bodies. It is vital to our bone health as it enables calcium to be absorbed from our gut. Taking Vitamin D (in food or as a supplement) has to be balanced, as we can take too much. However, there is no risk of producing too much from the sun. The body doesn’t allow for this to happen.
There is some evidence (not conclusive) to show that a lack of Vitamin D may be a risk factor in certain diseases involving nerve tissue like Multiple Sclerosis.
· Improved cognition and mood. Dr. Marc Berman and his colleagues have researched this intensively. They have found that spending time in nature refreshes our brain, improves attention and memory performance. They are also finding that the same effects apply for individuals with depression.
· The shade of trees helps keep us cool in the heat. Have you noticed when you walk in the city in the summer it can be overwhelmingly hot with no respite. I often see people crowded under one tree. Trees also absorb carbon dioxide and other harmful gases such as sulphur dioxide and carbon monoxide; they produce oxygen. Having enough trees around your home will certainly reduce cooling costs in the summer, and clean the air!
· Biodiversity. When nature is in balance, many species will co-exist. Over long periods of time, if nature is left alone, species come to co-exist in a harmonious, mutually beneficial manner. If radical disturbances occur, however, (e.g. clearing land for building), one or two species will come to dominate for a while until nature can re-assert its balanced view of things. In the plant kingdom we will often call these dominant plants weeds. If the disruption is big enough (e.g. removing a whole forest), then animals may not survive, as their source of food has disappeared.
How do we benefit from biodiversity? A diverse, stable ecosystem provides us with food, fuel, shelter, medicine and allows for our continued survival.
Now is the time of year to plant. If you are interested in planting for biodiversity look for native species. These have adapted to survive in our region over many years.
For more information contact the North American Native Plant Society http://www.nanps.org/index.php/home/what-is-nanps
R. Sian Owen