"Sensing Nature" has been a two-year research project, led by Dr Sarah Bell at the University of Exeter and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. Using an in-depth qualitative approach, the project has aimed to improve the ways we understand, enable and promote more inclusive, multisensory nature experiences amongst people living with sight impairment. Sarah brings LGHN up to date with the project's progress this year.
As we approach Christmas 2018 and the end of the funded phase of Sensing Nature, it seems a good time to reflect on another exciting year for the project (reflections on the project's activities in 2017 are available here: https://sensing-nature.com/news/busy-year).
It’s been a year of analysis, writing, presenting, workshop-ing, and traversing the length and breadth of the country on trains and buses!
Sarah spent much of January to March going through all the fantastic interview transcripts from last year’s fieldwork phase, analysing people’s nature experiences in the context of their everyday and whole lives.
It was clear through this process that what ‘nature’ is and what it means to different people can vary according to the environments we grow up in, those we experience over time, and the stories we share about nature within different societies and across generations.
Nature can be experienced at many different levels; from a plant pot in the home to feeling the elements outside, the plants, birdlife and other creatures in the garden, or venturing further afield to parks, woodlands, the coast, countryside and mountains.
With this in mind, Sensing Nature has organised a series of events through the year, and produced a range of practical outputs designed to support people to engage with nature in varied ways, according to their interests and priorities.
One of these outputs is the ‘Easing into nature with sight impairment’ resource; a written and audio output designed for people living with an eye condition, close friends or family, and anyone keen to facilitate more inclusive nature experiences.
The second is the ‘Designing urban green space with sight impairment in mind’ resource; a booklet designed to support landscape architects, planners, designers and managers with the inclusive design and management of nature-based settings.
A third resource is a set of suggestions for ‘Supporting people with sight impairment to participate in group walks’. These aim to encourage walking groups to welcome walkers with sight impairment, and feature a series of ‘top tips’ for supporting, sharing and routing varied walking experiences.
In September 2018, Sensing Nature also organised an event in Bristol, called ‘Adventures with nature and sight impairment’. The event included presentations by the Calvert Trust, the Milton Mountaineers, Vision of Adventure and Blind Veterans UK. Since many people were keen to find out more about the event’s discussions, a short podcast capturing some of the highlights has been produced and is available here.
Recognising the importance of building people’s connection with nature from childhood onwards, this was followed by a lively ‘Festival of More-than-Visual Nature’ at the Eden Project in November, organised by Sensing Nature in collaboration with Moorvision, the Sensory Trust and sound artist, Justin Wiggan. Building on what has been a brilliant collaboration with Moorvision, the event aimed to celebrate the many opportunities we have to experience nature across the senses, with activities ranging from musical plants to rainforest quests, botanical tastings and creative adventures.
In May 2018, Sarah was fortunate to be awarded a small amount of additional funding to develop a strand of activities called ‘Vocalising Nature Sense: Nature Narratives’. This project was prompted by last year’s Nature Sense workshop at WWT Slimbridge, and has been delivering tailored visual awareness and audio description training workshops at three case study sites: Leighton Moss RSPB reserve, Sherwood Forest and Durlston Country Park. The overall aim of the work has been to build capacity to welcome and support inclusive multisensory nature experiences amongst people with sight impairment, whilst also raising awareness of these types of settings as places for everyone. The project team is currently refining a set of written training materials based on these workshops, which will be available to download via the Sensing Nature website in the new year. In the meantime, project partner Anna Fineman (Museums, Galleries and Heritage Programme Manager) has written a great piece online about the rationale and development of this programme of work.
Although this is the end of the funded phase of Sensing Nature, there has been a huge amount of enthusiasm for putting many of the findings into practice, and Sarah will be exploring which of many possible next steps to focus on in the New Year, so hopefully there’ll be plenty more to come in 2019.
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