May is an excellent time of year to be spent enjoying the outdoors, as there are so many changes taking place in our surroundings. Wildflowers and blossoms are in full swing, with hedgerows, grass margins, and verges exhibiting a wide range of colours and scents. Cow parsley might be overrunning your local footpath, but it’s serving an important purpose for our wild pollinators with an early supply of pollen. Though there still may be a chill in the morning air, the dawn chorus of May is rife with robins and thrushes and, as the morning warms up, we are greeted by the calls of warblers and the wren. Calves stray curiously from their mothers, and you’ll find lambs nestled in the growing grass. 

Over the last few years I have spent an increasing amount of time outdoors, through a growing passion for running. Certainly, this has increased my awareness of the changes in the seasons and fostered a relationship with being outside which I simply did not have before. Joining FWAG SW in August last year, I’ve learnt so much more on how farming and farmers play a role on the spaces that I frequently pass through, and how important access to farmed land can be. And being from Northamptonshire, I’ve noticed just how different farming systems can be on other sides of the country, and how this provides both opportunity and challenges for outdoor recreation. Where I once passed seas of yellow rapeseed and wheat, I now find myself navigating ditches, rhynes and lush grass pastures in Somerset, or scrambling up a knoll or combe. 

Photo - Charlie Steele, Kettering, Northamptonshire

The focus for this entry is to encourage getting outdoors in May and, be it running, walking, cycling, sitting, or any other activity, spend some time admiring the free facilities we are provided by nature. Naturally Healthy May is a Devon Local Nature Partnership-led project for getting as many people as possible engaged with the outdoors for health and wellbeing this month. There are so many benefits to spending time outdoors with studies, evidence, and real world applications to support this. For example, stress hormones in our body are found to drop after just 15 minutes spent sitting in wooded areas, and doctors in the USA and Canada are now formally prescribing ‘time outdoors’ to patients suffering from some chronic illnesses and health conditions. Time outdoors is most often time away from the fast pace of our work lives, and time away from a keyboard and screen. It may even help you solve a problem at work and resolve anxieties or workplace pressures. 

I found similar evidence from my own university research into runners’ preferences for the type of environment they enjoyed running in. Of the 17 individuals I interviewed, only one found running indoors on a treadmill to be at all reasonable, and only as a ‘last resort’. And in descriptions of the outdoors, terms such as ‘inspiring’, ‘breath-taking’, and ‘mesmerising’ were frequently used in discussions of their favourite running environments. Hills, steep climbs, and expansive views were dubbed the ‘best’ characteristics for a great experience outside, owing to the feelings of freedom and sense of achievement after climbing something tough. And finally, participants often linked the benefits of running and being outdoors generally with reductions in stress, and being able to take time out from daily worries for an hour or two. Of course, such an escape may not be possible for everyone – you may have responsibilities which keep you at home, or may not be physically able. As with all things, a balance is to be found and there are many resources to help you with this. 

Photo - Charlie Steele, Lake District

Encouraging each other to spend time enjoying the great outdoors isn’t just important for our present health and wellbeing, but is important for the future of our human relationships with the environment. Environmental commentators have described a decreasing engagement with the outdoors as ‘nature-deficit disorder’, arguing that children are growing up devoid of interaction with nature and remaining disconnected into adulthood. And without children growing up with a love for or interest in their environment, where will the future’s environmental advisers, managers, and activists come from? I’ve been very fortunate to grow up in an active family, grandson to a keen horticulturist, and with plenty of opportunities to get out into the countryside around me. This isn’t the case for millions of young people across the country who struggle for access to nature from childhood through to adulthood, a trend which has been exacerbated by the pandemic and rise of remote learning. 


Photo - Charlie Steele, The Cotswolds, Near Chipping Norton

The bottom line is simple: getting people to be engaged with nature is a challenge for the future, but it can be done through collaboration, encouragement, and youth experiences. If you’re a farmer reading this, have you considered educational access for young people to provide learning opportunities on your farm? I became drastically aware of how little I knew about farming before joining FWAG SW - It has been an eye-opening experience to work alongside individuals so knowledgeable about the fields I would once simply run past or through. If you’re looking to be more active, check out Naturally Healthy May for activities in Devon, or Good Gym who are an excellent advocate for exercise in a meaningful way. To get involved with farming and farmers, why not take a look at Social Farms & Gardens, a UK-wide charity supporting communities to come together for growing sustainable produce. And if, like me, you are interested in how running and geography relates to one another, why not check out Jographies – a forum on the study and geographies of running/exercise by the excellent Simon Cook.