Birding: The gateway to supporting my mental health

Dunsmore Living Landscape’s Community Engagement Officer, Dan Loveard talks about his mental health and how birding became his therapy. 

There is a good chance that you or someone close to you has struggled with mental ill health. One in four people in England will experience a mental health problem in any given year. What we need is a tonic of wildness! People who love to spend time in nature can tell you plenty about the positive impact it has on their mental health for having that contact and exposure to the outdoors.

This is my experience of nature supporting my mental health:

I have been through a number of challenging life experiences, where it has and still affects my relationships to this day. Frustrating and draining battles with my thoughts, not sleeping, no appetite and feeling worthless. Truth be told I have struggled with depression and anxiety since I was 10 and I am now 25. Throughout my university years my mental health unfortunately peaked at its worst and the work load added to that heavy weight on my shoulders. I sought counselling and tried various self-help techniques to support my mental health and eventually what started to be and remains to be the most effective source of self-help is birding. This seemingly normal thing that I did on a regular basis, watching and hearing birds around North Wales felt like a catalyst of my recovery. I felt calm, distracted and that I could take on the next day. I realised how essential this hobby was for my well-being.

My passion for birding has been in my life for a long time and it grew as I went away to Bonaire to support Echo, a conservation charity working to protect the charismatic and threatened Yellow-shouldered Amazon Parrot. I visited some amazing birding destinations on the island and my international birding life list went through the roof! I was fortunate to work with many exotic and unfamiliar species, getting immersed in the wildlife that engaged all my senses in a way that was totally captivating. There were countless ways that I took time to appreciate the birds out there, noticing their colours, distinctive patterns on their plumage and their charming and funny allure.

When going back to North Wales to continue my degree, I had a new found appreciation for birds, where that extra level of time to observe them led to me feeling more at ease and dispelled the noise of my busy brain. Birding became the perfect recipe for helping me manage those triggers of anxiety. When I’m trying to imagine feeling calm and getting perspective, I always picture myself at the edge of the Menai Straits, sitting on the pebbles, no one else around except me and the oystercatchers piping away – their ‘kleep kleep’ call shrill yet comforting.

Being outdoors and with nature is free and accessible to lots of us and is a well evidenced way to alleviate stress, improve your mood and help your mind restore.  Many studies have shown that these benefits occur in a variety of greenspaces, such as within woodland, urban parks and by water. But it is important for you to establish your own preference and what works best for you. Take some time out in nature, especially as it is ‘mental health awareness week’, whether that is on your own or with company. If you are into birds, then enjoy the melodic orchestra of their song, which is at its best in spring and take some binoculars out with you to help further connect with the birds you are watching.

Yesterday, I explored a new area of the Dunsmore Living Landscape in Willenhall, which consisted of walking a stretch of the Sowe Valley footpath and Willenhall Wood. Despite being surrounded by industry, housing and roads, I still felt that I had reaped the benefits of walking among the trees and bird life, which emphasises there are opportunities on many people’s doorsteps to appreciate the environment around them.

Contact with nature and the outdoors will always be the tonic for supporting my mental health and is something which I feel everyone should adopt in their daily lives. I would suggest starting off your wilder future if you have not done so already, by adopting the simple steps that are mentioned in The Wildlife Trusts poster to enable nature and your mental health to positively connect.