On 4th of October 2018, the University of Antwerp, the Province of Antwerp and the Belgian Community of Practice Biodiversity and Health, together with many other organizations, including NatureMinded organized the Natuur op verwijziging (Nature on prescription) – event.
As the closing event of the Light on Green project and as part of the Healthcare and Natural Living Environment Chair, it is also a follow-up to the European OneHealth / EcoHealth workshop organized by the Belgian Community of Practice Biodiversity and Health in 2016. The meeting was mainly aimed at professionals from the health sector and the nature sector, but is also open to other interested parties. The main objective of the event is to promote cooperation between the health and nature sectors as well as cooperation on nature and health within these sectors. And, quite ruthlessly, to crowdsource input for future projects headed by University of Antwerp. The program included lectures by scientists and policy makers, thematic workshops and a market on which various initiatives (from research, policy and practice) were presented.
At the Verbondenheid met natuur (Connectedness with Nature) workshop that I had the opportunity to co-coordinate with Patricia Mergen from Plantentuin Meise, we had the pleasure to hear talks from different speakers from the field. Dr ir. Femke Beute from Lichtgroen Welzijn (NL) gave us the scientific prelude to connectedness with nature as a concept; Anna Leonard from Goodplanet Belgium and their their efforts as an organization to connecting different target groups with nature; Herman Vereycken from Terra Therapeutica and their work with Therapeutic gardens and garden therapy among prison convicts; Miet Vanhassel from Brussels Outdoor School and their unique effort to bring the Scandinavian Forest School practice to Belgium; and Patricia from Plantentuin Meise talk about a concept new to many, i.e. plant blindness. I also had the chance to share my thoughts on Forest Therapy as a way to reconnect with nature.
Though the discussion at the workshop was very inspiring, these were the lessons that were taken further to the panel discussion afterward:
- Health sector is moving toward nature because there are so many aspects of wellbeing are connected to nature and nature offers opportunities and solutions. Nature connectedness is one of these fundamental wellbeing questions.
- It is very important to look beyond nature to what nature can mean and how it can be made meaningful. Thanks to a good interpretation, connectedness can be increased.
- Designing and adapting spaces in the city so that they enable and invite contact with nature, even when living in the city.
- Forest therapy goes beyond superficial contact with nature, thanks to the professional guidance, it provides a shortcut to create mindfulness moments.
- Collaboration is key and should include very different sectors, including prisons and vulnerable groups, instead of the usual suspects.
Let us plant seeds to continue working across sectors on more connectedness: nature, education, therapies. We must move toward an ethics of life, promote awareness and think before we intervene with an ecosystem. Looking for nature and experiencing nature is (or should be) also a societal goal.