A few weeks ago, I attended a small, one-day, yoga retreat at someone’s house, situated in a beautiful, wooded area. The ideal opportunity to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. I had arrived early and walked around. The sun was shining, the birds were whistling, and the wind was rustling gently through the trees. In the distance I heard a church bell clanging, and nothing but serenity abounded.
It reminded me of the article about the doctors in Scotland, who prescribe ‘nature’ as medicine for people with (too) high blood pressure and dealing with stress and anxiety. In Japan they have a nice term for it: Shinrin-yoku, or forest bathings. During a forest bath your life slows down and increases your senses to experience nature, imbuing positive effects onto your physical and mental health. That feeling washed over me, before the yoga sessions had even started. Off to a great start of my day.
In between the yoga sessions we discussed how nice it is when you feel wrapped by the outdoors. For many participants the concept of forest bathing was new, but the green environment made an extra explanation hardly necessary. Everyone felt it. What would it be like, if we spent more time in nature in the Netherlands, we wondered? Would that make all of us healthier? Possibilities enough in any case, because plenty of forests and nature reserves exist in the Netherlands, right?
Actually, that last question is entirely up to us. Especially if you’re a city dweller, you’re apt to think from a quiet forest that Dutch nature is flourishing. However, according to the Dutch newspaper Trouw, we belong to the rearguard in Europe. A large part of protected Dutch nature is located in the sea. The remainder consists of sparse areas, scattered throughout the Dutch countryside and are not connected. Of the Dutch surface area, 67% is used for agriculture and horticulture, 18% is cultivated, and 15% consists of forest and natural lands. This includes forests for wood production. An additional 72% of Dutch lands suffer from high nitrogen deposits. Nature can use some help.
You can offer some help by supporting organisations such as Natuurmonumenten (which translates as Nature Monuments) Staatsbosbeheer (State Forestry Management), or the Waddenvereniging (the name of an Association for unique Dutch mudflats on the northern edge of the country). You can also help on a smaller scale, through Foundation BuyWorld and Land van Ons (Land of Ours), a people’s collective. Both organisations purchase lands in a collective manner in order to protect it. Via BuyWorld, you can buy a piece(s) of nature for only € 0.99 per m2. The foundation takes options on land plots and when enough people participate, it is purchased and returned to nature. Land van Ons operates on the same principle. They buy (agricultural) land to manage sustainably. You can become a member for € 10 and a yearly € 20 helps to buy land. With both organisations you’re not making an economic investment because you don’t receive a financial return. But by saving a piece of nature, you invest in your own future and that of the people around you.
The possibility of this idea makes me very happy. Just as happy as a day of yoga between the trees.
Asceline Groot is ondernemer bij hetkanWEL, schrijfster van ‘Het Nieuwe Groen’ en PhD kandidaat aan de Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen. In haar columns schrijft zij over (start-up) sociale ondernemingen en trends en ontwikkelingen op het gebied van duurzaamheid.