Have you heard about virtual nature?

A friend once commented that I must be one of the most relaxed people on the planet given all the time I get to spend at some of the wonderful locations where we work. It probably does seem that way from the outside but to be honest, I probably don’t spend enough time actually absorbing the experience. My brain is often ticking through the things that I need to get done, trying to stick to a timeline, and getting back home at a decent hour. But I do also recognise that I feel a lot better after a day in the field.

Exercise for the body and a break for the brain (photo: Jonathan Tuck).

For most of us who love being in the great outdoors, we are probably aware that it lifts our mood. NGT’s Lauren Brown covered off on the many benefits of getting outdoors in a previous post but a recent article by Navjot Bhullar (ABC Health and Wellbeing) got me thinking some more. This desire to connect with nature is termed “biophillia” and has been linked to reduced stress, increased happiness and fewer symptoms of depression. Similar to meditation, natural settings are incredibly effective at restoring our attention – switching off a busy brain and grounding our presence. It’s like putting our brains on standby and giving them a chance to recharge. Natural environments are also generally calm and aesthetically pleasant, which also illicits a stress reducing response. The consensus, and it is one worth repeating, is that time in nature is really good for us.

Navjot Bhular also explored “virtual nature” and found that experiences of nature (and all the associated benefits) don’t have to take place in person. I remember as a child being enamored with episodes of Harry Butler and The Bush Tucker Man. In hindsight these were my fix as a city kid and no doubt cemented my love for, and dependence on, experiences in nature. I think this concept of virtual nature is really interesting in terms of what it might offer those who aren’t physically able to get to the great outdoors.

Over the past year we have been collecting a lot of photos and soundscape as part of the “New Tech Volunteering: Novel citizen science for Grampians wetlands” project, supported by the Victorian Government through the Volunteering Innovation Fund. It’s a multimedia snapshot of what has been a pretty amazing filling and drying season across the wetlands of the Upper Wannon and while the ultimate aim is to improve our knowledge about the animals that are out there, I can’t help but think it will be a great resource for taking the wetlands to people who can’t get there. My partner Megan Nicolson recently had a solo exhibition featuring giant wetland creatures in Warrnambool Art Gallery’s Family Learning Center and a key takeaway from that was how many families with young children would come in (often for repeat visits) and just sit – it was a relaxing space with a background wetland soundscape.

Virtual wetland at the Warrnambool Art Gallery (Megan Nicolson – Soggy Homes).

So if you have any ideas on how we might be able to use some of our resources (like the photos and soundscapes), and bring some virtual nature into people’s lives, I’d love to hear from you. And if you need a dose of virtual nature right now, the video below can take you to Kelly Swamp, just next to Warrnambool.

Sights and sounds of Kelly Swamp, near Warrnambool.
Lachlan Farrington