Nature is crucial to wellbeing, and new data reveals 90% of adults agree natural spaces improve mental health.

Despite this, only 8% have participated in organised wildlife activities in the last year.

A wildlife expert gives top tips for interacting with wildlife at home to make the most of this untapped mental health booster.

New data from the People & Nature Survey for England has revealed that while 90% of adults agree that natural spaces improve mental health, 41% said nature and wildlife has been more important than ever to their wellbeing since coronavirus restrictions began.

Of the 2,086 adults who took part in the survey in April 2021, 68% of them had visited a green and natural space within the previous two weeks - a 19% increase compared to April 2020. This demonstrates that people are increasingly relying on nature to maintain positive mental health.

Despite the surge in people enjoying the benefits of engaging in nature, one in every five adults cite work/life balance as being a barrier to them visiting green spaces. The survey also revealed that only 8% of adults have participated in organised wildlife activities, such as the Big Garden Birdwatch, since coronavirus restrictions began. Experts are encouraging the UK public to engage with wildlife this summer, as data unveils an untapped opportunity for improving mental health that is being neglected.

You can enjoy the stress-relieving powers of wildlife this summer whilst supporting the UK's garden creatures in the process. Sean McMenemy, wildlife expert and director at Ark Wildlife, provides his tips on how best to enjoy wildlife, wildlife activities you can do at home and how to attract a diverse range of wildlife to your garden.

Chester and District Standard: Bird and birdbox by wildlife expert Sean McMenemy.Bird and birdbox by wildlife expert Sean McMenemy.

What are the benefits of getting involved with wildlife activities such as birdwatching?

A study commissioned by the National Trust found that listening to woodland sounds, such as birdsong, led to a 30% increase in feelings of relaxation.

Sean said: "Spending time watching or walking in nature has been shown to benefit both mind and body, and this is true for young people and adults alike.

"Sitting quietly in fresh air or walking in open spaces calms the mind and body, it balances our physiology and promotes production of positive hormones.

"Slowing to the pace of nature and it's natural rhythms is greatly beneficial and contrasts starkly with our fast paced digital existences with all its distractions. Time spent in nature is never wasted.

"An activity like birdwatching could even inspire a new found interest in wildlife. Whether this entails stepping outside to watch the birds, or observing them through a window, the act of appreciating surrounding wildlife is both a learning opportunity and a chance to have fun, and step away from your usual daily tasks."

Which wildlife activities can you enjoy in your own garden?

A key obstacle preventing people spending time in nature has been caution around spreading coronavirus - 34% stated the main reason for not spending time outdoors in the two-week period before taking the survey was to stop the virus spreading. As well as this, it was found that having a garden is important or very important to 84% of people.

So, our gardens provide the perfect space to safely explore our connection to wildlife by engaging in wildlife activities. Sean encourages getting stuck in to turning your garden into a supportive haven to attract local wildlife.

Chester and District Standard: Bee by wildlife expert Sean McMenemy.Bee by wildlife expert Sean McMenemy.

Plant bee-friendly flowers

"Every garden regardless of size can be both bee friendly and beautiful. Bees have a similar taste to humans, in that they favour flowers with bountiful open blooms, and long flowering seasons.

"Examples of flowers generous in pollen and nectar include geraniums, lavender, open dahlias and globe thistle.

"Also, herbs such as marjoram, sage and chives and flowering shrubs like buddleia, cotoneaster and apple blossom.

"A nice idea would be to make a bee 'nectar filling station'. It's simply a pot or pots filled with nectar-giving flowers and a shallow dish of water (many may be surprised to know that bees need hydration too).

"Make sure you keep flowers blooming in the pot from March to September by changing them as they fade."

Chester and District Standard: Hedgehog by wildlife expert Sean McMenemy.Hedgehog by wildlife expert Sean McMenemy.

Look after the hedgehogs

"Hedgehogs are a welcome sight in any garden, as they help keep control of pests like snails, slugs and other insects.

"But in the UK these beautiful and valuable creatures are disappearing at an alarming rate.

"With their natural habitats being destroyed by urbanisation, our gardens are a crucial place of safety for hedgehogs, so it's important that people do everything they can to protect them.

"Hedgehogs need space to find food, shelter and love. Make a CD sized hole in fences to give hedgehogs the room to roam.

"Give them a drink because water can be hard to find in summer - put out a shallow sided dish of water and keep it topped up nightly.

"Also, supplement their diet with meaty hedgehog, dog or cat food to start their evening forage with a reliable source of food.

"Finally, add a hedgehog house or woodpile to a quiet corner, to provide sleeping quarters during long summer days."

Give birdwatching a go

Unfortunately, many bird species are in decline across the UK. This year's Big Garden Birdwatch revealed that 16 of the top 20 small garden bird species experienced a significant decline in the last year.

"Birds are very present in all our lives. Even those who say they 'know nothing' when asked, are surprised when questioned about common birds. Once minds are opened, people can often identify a dozen or more birds they didn't realise they knew."

How can you attract a diverse variety of birds to your garden?

In order to elevate your chances of attracting a wide and exciting variety of birds to your garden, Sean suggests: "For the quickest and biggest impact, feed sunflower hearts. This will attract the widest diversity of birds because removing the shells means even insect eaters can access this food.

"You can expect to attract 30 or more bird species to your garden with this food alone.

"The key to attracting a greater number and diversity of birds is to provide different types of food, seeds, nuts, fruit, suet and even live food such as mealworms in different locations. Birds like blue and great tits like to feed at height from bird feeders.

"Robins and all sorts of finches prefer feeding from a flat surface such as a bird table off the ground. While blackbirds, thrushes and doves all prefer feeding at ground level. Vary the food, heights and the locations for your best chances of attracting some of the more uncommon birds to your garden.

"Attracting different and perhaps more unusual birds to the garden can be done with a little thought and effort. For example, rubbing suet into the bark of trees can encourage birds such as woodpeckers, nuthatches and even treecreepers to your garden.

"Chopping old apples in half and throwing them on the lawn or hang them from trees can attract winter visitors such as redwings and fieldfares. For the really adventurous, why not try tempting down red kites with meaty scraps?"

Where to give further support:

British Trust for Ornithology - conducts research into understanding UK's bird populations

Dose of Nature - charity established to promote the mental health benefits of engaging with the natural world

People's Trust for Endangered Species - charity working to conserve habitats such as hedgerows, traditional orchards and wood pasture & parkland, among other native species