Sir David shows that plants are just as interesting as animals

The Green Planet, the latest Sir David Attenborough-fronted natural history series on the BBC, has earned rave reviews — well, at least as far as the production and presentation are concerned. The visuals are (as ever) stunning and Sir David is a national treasure, so no surprises there. But it seems that poor old Sir David is having to work extra hard in front of camera because, in the opinion of at least some critics, plants are just not as interesting as red-in-tooth-and-claw animals and spectacular lava-spewing volcanoes. At the heart of Life-Based Learning is the belief that young people need to be learning about and experiencing plant life and nature in a thorough and systematic way. One of the reasons is because, as recently published research has again demonstrated, our health and wellbeing benefit from contact with the plant world and nature more generally.

The Green Planet is described by the Open University (co-producer of the series) as an “immersive portrayal of an unseen, inter-connected world, full of remarkable new behaviour, emotional stories and surprising heroes in the plant world.”

Click for an easy-to-understand behind-the-scenes look at how the series was made, using lots of impressive-sounding technology like First Person View drones and robotic time-lapse camera rigs, nicknamed Triffids, “allowing the camera to travel into the plant’s world and film in timelapse in all sorts of environments.” There is a more detailed account in this online article.

As for the critics, here is the opening paragraph of the Daily Telegraph‘s review of the first episode of The Green Planet:

“Sir David Attenborough and the BBC’s Natural History Unit have brought us many spectacular sights over the years. Now, a challenge: how to make plants as exciting as animals? To have us in awe of a leaf?”

And here is what the Times had to say:

“Plants, I think most humans would agree, don’t pull on the heartstrings like lion cubs or waddling penguins, unless, I suppose, you’re David Bellamy (one for the older reader there). So in The Green Planet the music worked overtime to push viewers’ empathy buttons, although you will never get as much emotional ‘jeopardy’ in plants battling it out on the floor of the Amazon rainforest, racing skywards to claim the light created when a tree falls, as you will from racer snakes chasing a poor iguana for their lunch.”

The Guardian — whose review of The Green Planet called it “gobsmacking, awe-inspiring” — referred in a leader article to ‘plant blindness’, a term apparently coined in 1998 to describe humans’ general tendency not to see the plant life that surrounds us. It suggested reasons why — one, apparently, the primitive human brain and its need to categorise things as either threat or non-threat — and noted its effects: “Combined with the general move to cities, and then to screen-based life indoors, this has resulted in, for example, up to half of British children being unable to identify stinging nettles, brambles or bluebells; 82% of those questioned could not recognise an oak leaf.”

Meanwhile, recently published research called Lonely in a crowd: Investigating the association between overcrowding and loneliness using smartphone technologies, found that contact with nature in cities significantly reduces feelings of loneliness.

The research found that feelings of overcrowding increased loneliness by an average of 39%. But when people were able to see trees or the sky, or hear birds, feelings of loneliness fell by 28%. Feelings of social inclusion also cut loneliness by 21%, and when these feelings coincided with contact with nature the beneficial effect was boosted by a further 18%.

The Guardian, Contact with nature in cities reduces loneliness

In the drier language of the report abstract:

Increased overcrowding and population density were associated with higher levels of loneliness; in contrast, social inclusivity and contact with nature were associated with lower levels of loneliness … The positive association between social inclusivity and lower levels of loneliness was more pronounced when participants were in contact with nature, indicating an interaction between the social and built environment on loneliness. The feeling of loneliness changes in relation to both social and environmental factors.

Lonely in a crowd: Investigating the association between overcrowding and loneliness using smartphone technologies

We regularly blog about the importance of nature and the environment for health and wellbeing. For example, in December we focused on a report calculating the benefit in monetary terms of woodland visits — nearly £200 million per year.

In our blog Getting involved with nature is a great way to deal with eco-anxiety, we highlighted the growing popularity of ‘green social prescribing’ — where individuals and, increasingly, health and community services use nature to boost mental wellbeing.

And in blogs like Immersing children in nature from a young age is a massive win-win we promote the twin benefits — to education and to health — of putting nature at the very heart of children’s lives, regardless of whether they live in the middle of the countryside or the middle of a city.

More About Plant Life and Nature

The image at the head of this article is from the BBC website.

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