Reconnect – People

The natural world, and the opportunity to connect with it, is vitally important to human wellbeing but how do we balance that with natures wellbeing?

Online event

22nd June 2022 - 2:00 pm to 3:30 pm

Reconnecting to Nature

The natural world, and the opportunity to connect with it, is vitally important to human wellbeing.
Initiatives to support our wellbeing through 'nature connectedness' are being developed in many protected landscapes, by park and AONB teams and by commercial and social businesses. Opportunities are now on offer for visitors to benefit from services such as health walks, green social prescribing, forest bathing and eco-escapes. How do we reach communities that do not normal visit protected areas and why?
However, attracting more people to protected landscapes, many of them first time visitors with less understanding of how the countryside 'works', can cause conflicts. In some cases, humans can unintentionally cause harm to the very natural world that they had hoped to connect with and benefit from.
• Do we need to balance the need for human wellbeing with the need for nature's wellbeing?
• How do we attract a diverse range of people to protected areas
• Do we value nature enough to do that, and exactly how do we put nature first?
• In a market economy is it possible to limit visitor numbers to a national landscape that is largely privately owned?

Site Visits

Avalon Marshes super NNR

8th June 2022

The Somerset lowlands, have big open skies, expanses of waterways, fields of pasture, wet woodlands, reedbeds, vibrant birdlife, and be-jewelled dragonflies on the wing. The Somerset Levels & Moors are the largest remaining wetland in England, and are protected by a plethora of environmental designations, from being a ‘Ramsar’ site of international importance for wetland birds and invertebrates, a Special Protection Area (SPA) for migratory birds, a network of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI’s) cited for the richness of its flora and fauna and with many National Nature Reserves – the ‘jewels in the crown’ of England’s wildlife-rich places. It remains of outstanding importance for wintering wildfowl and is one of the last strongholds in southern England for breeding waders and sits between two AONB’s.

But as a landscape they are on the frontline of climate change and also face huge challenges. Water quality is poor due to high phosphate levels. With sea levels predicted to rise and extreme weather events to become more common, we need to work with nature to find solutions, such as ways of storing carbon, holding and moving water to the right places in the landscape, and buffering our coastlines with habitats that absorb the seas power. Working in this way we also improve our landscape greatly for wildlife and all the joy that brings us.

The partnership of conservation organisations in Somerset intend to rise to the scale of this challenge.

Our nature reserves are clearly strongholds where we can start this work and begin to recover nature on a bigger scale. Natural England, working with partners the Somerset Wildlife Trust, the RSPB, the Environment Agency, the Wildfowl & Wetland Trust, National Trust and Hawk & Owl Trust intend to bring together all our existing nature reserves, as well as a number of connecting waterways in the Somerset lowlands, into one larger ‘super’ Somerset Wetlands NNR.

The visit will cover coastal issues at steart, peat restoration at shapwick and visitor engagement & education at both.

Green Spaces Dark Skies festival – Dorset AONB

11th June 2022

This is a very special Site visit to the Dorset AONB who are involved in the Green Spaces Dark Skies festival run by Walk the Plank, in partnership with UK AONBs and National Parks this summer as part of the Unboxed Festival. This series of illuminator events aiming to engage new audiences with protected landscapes through organised creative arts activity.
Kate Wood from Activate Arts who are co-ordinating this event will lead on the site visit alongside Sue Dampney from the AONB team.
We are suggestingthat we meet people on site prior to the event. The site is accessed by train from Dorchester railway station where parking is available.
Details to be shared with all illuminators prior to the event

There are limited places so please book early

Further information can be found using the following links


You may need to book overnight accommodation as the event does not finish until after

Event Chair

Jo Swiers

Europarc Atlantic Isles Board Meber

Jo is a self employed consultant with 20 years’ experience of delivering organisational strategy in public and third sector organisations including the North York Moors NPA, National Parks UK, Nidderdale AONB, the Lower Ure Conservation Trust and the National Trust.

In 2020/2021 Jo also facilitated a DEFRA Environmental Land Management ‘Test and Trial’. This involved working with the Foundation for Common land and Federation of Cumbrian Commoners to develop an ELM delivery model for Commons.

Jo was brought up on a farm near Skipton and is now based in Ripon, North Yorkshire. In her early career she worked on land management projects in Guyana, St Helena and China. She has a master's degree in Agricultural Economics, is a board member of EUROPARC Atlantic Isles and enjoys walking, swimming and (attempting) to grow prize winning vegetables.

In August this year, Jo will be take on the role of interim Executive Director at National Parks England.

Event Panel

Professor Miles Richardson

Professor of Human Factors and Nature Connectedness
University of Derby

Professor of Human Factors and Nature Connectedness and lead the Nature Connectedness Research Group. The focus of our research is understanding and improving our connection with nature, because of the well-being and environmental benefits. Since launch in 2013 I have worked with a number of conservation NGOs, including the National Trust, RSPB and on 30 Days Wild with The Wildlife Trusts. Recent projects include the £1.3m IWUN project where we continue to develop nature connectedness based interventions to himprove mental health. I am member of a Natural England research strategy group and working with partners on a national indicator of nature connection, the NCI. I launched the Nature Connections conference series in 2015.

Liz Pugh

Co-founder and Creative Producer
Walk the Plank

Liz produced their theatre ship’s national touring programme for 15 years; and now leads teams working on festivals, parades, and site-specific performances. As a director of large scale outdoor performances that have participation at their heart, she has been artistic director for Hull Freedom Festival (2013-15) leads the team that produce Manchester Day since its inception (2010-22), and created the opening for Pafos: EU Capital of Culture 2017; and staged Wales’ largest outdoor bilingual performance for Wales Millennium Centre (2015) – all diverse platforms which offer the chance for meaningful exchange between artists and new audiences. As well as creating ambitious transnational events, Liz has worked with British Council’s Cultural Skills team to lead Festival Management Training in West Africa, the Caribbean and Ukraine; co-designed two European training programmes: School of Participation (2019-21), School of Spectacle (2017-19); and designed training to build the capacity of artists and communities across Wales: Lloyds Bank Awen Schools, supported by Arts Council Wales. Liz is the Country Producer (Wales) for Green Space Dark Skies, as well as working with the project’s learning and engagement teams across the UK, where her knowledge of contemporary participatory arts practice and extensive experience of working with diverse communities to make work in public space and realise large scale civic celebrations is invaluable. Liz brings a knowledge of design thinking, an interest in new technologies, and she manages a team of freelance creative producers, production wizards, trainers, artists and creative practitioners who can be deployed across all Walk the Plank’s projects. One of the Cultural Leadership’s 50 Women to Watch (2010) she worked as a ‘Canny Creative’ for the British Council worldwide: 6 months in Ukraine (2013/14) was followed by projects in Egypt, Brazil, Hong Kong and West Africa. She sits on the boards of Xtrax, and Salford’s Culture and Place Partnership

Professor Chris Loynes

Human Nature Relations
University of Cumbria

My own research interests include understanding the impact of Outdoor Education in schools, the outdoors as a vehicle for youth development, understanding the various ways in which people engage with nature and the role of local communities and other communities of interest in their environments. I recently led the Erasmus Mundus international MA Transcultural European Outdoor Studies. I currently lead the Human Nature Relations theme of the Centre for Research in National Parks and Protected Areas. This includes the national Outdoor Learning research hub project in partnership with the Institute for Outdoor Learning. I am research advisor to the Institute for Outdoor Learning and the Bay Trust. In my career I have been a teacher, youth worker, director of a social enterprise and political activist and so my interests are rooted in helping people with an interest in the environment understand and improve the quality of their activities. I am also a keen sailor, sea kayaker and mountaineer.

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