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Making the most of walking


I was lucky enough to have a day out in Stirling for work this week and what a day it was, just look at that sky and those hills. Walking to and from stations also meant that I got a lot of steps in, which was pretty relevant given where I was going. The event was Living Streets Scotland's Big Walking Seminar where the topic was about harnessing economics, planning and behaviour change to transform car dominated places and encourage walking & wheeling. They also launched their new report on 20-Minute Neighbourhoods, based on the idea that people can meet their essential needs within a 20-minute walk, which features work they have been doing in Airdrie, amongst other places. It's good to see Lanarkshire on the map.


I learnt a lot. Firstly, the 3-30-300 rule for greener, healthier and more resilient cities. Being able to see 3 trees from every home, having 30 percent tree canopy cover in every neighbourhood and living within 300 metres of the nearest public park or green space has been shown to improve mental health and reduce use of medication. The Danish municipality of Frederiksberg even has a tree policy that calls for every citizen to see at least one tree from their house or apartment. I live in a top floor flat and am lucky enough to have a couple of mature sycamore trees at the bottom of our shared garden that I can see the tops of from my office window. I often see the magpies, pigeons and crows vying for space up there. The importance of trees for our health excites me and I'm looking forward to doing more tree things as the Urban Tree Festival approaches, helpfully coinciding with Green Health Week in May. Interestingly one of the speakers reminded us that even when talking about urban environments we shouldn't just refer to greenspaces, we should talk about nature. We need nature and we need places where people can easily engage with nature.


Another speaker quoted Jan Gehl, a Danish architect and urban design consultant whose career has focused on improving the quality of urban life by re-orienting city design towards the pedestrian and cyclist:

Life happens on foot. Man was created to walk, and all of life's events

large and small develop when we walk among other people.

This put me in mind of the concept of collective effervescence that I read about in Awe, an idea developed by Emile Durkheim that as we move together in unison, we feel united and can experience awe. Having read about this idea, I have found that I feel differently about walking amongst city centre crowds, noticing how it is more like an elaborate dance, not just a group of strangers going about their lives.


We heard about the four Ps of walking - purpose, people, pause and path. Creating safe, welcoming spaces where people can connect with one another, as well as with nature and local services. These are:

  • Purpose - somewhere to walk to

  • People - someone to walk with

  • Pause - a place to stop

  • Path - a safe and enjoyable way to get there

This of course is the premise of the walks organised by Get Walking Lanarkshire; the route has been tested for safety and accessibility, you're guaranteed a purpose and people to walk with, and if you're lucky there's often the opportunity to pause and have a cup of tea! It was inspiring to be reminded that helping to improve ways for people to walk is to help them to improve their lives.


On Friday a fortnight ago walking past the park at dusk I heard the eeriest sound, I wasn't sure if was human, animal or bird. Last week the same thing happened again and I decided to investigate, finally tracking the source down to a large shape in a lime tree, a shape that then took off and was very clearly an owl. I don't think I have ever seen (or heard!) an owl before. Wanting to know more I searched on the internet for recordings of owl calls, and sure enough, what I had heard was a tawny owl. While it's not necessary to be able to name the things we see in nature, sometimes it can be fascinating to find out more - and one of the 5 ways to wellbeing is to keep learning. In fact, taking this kind of walk helps you knock off most of the other 5 ways - being active, connecting (with nature - and anyone else you might meet) and taking notice. I'm not sure an owl counts as a person to walk with, but he certainly given me a purpose and a place to pause. It was also something to come home and write down as one of my 3 good things in nature, and so, on this Social Prescribing Day (9th March), just a quick reminder that this practice is a simple intervention to help improve wellbeing and nature connection. I've been keeping a nature diary for over two years now, and it's great to look back and find what happened in previous years. If you don't want to do it just for yourself, why not volunteer to be a part of a citizen science project? The Woodland Trust need people to track the effects of weather and climate change on wildlife where they live. To do this you can sign up to Nature’s Calendar and help scientists discover answers to these questions. Find out more here. There's lots of information about why it's important and how you can get involved. Until next time - keep noticing nature, it's a great time of year for it, by the next time I write we will be past the Spring equinox!

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