Spending time outside and being immersed in a natural environment can improve physical and mental health.
Studies have shown that connecting with nature can help to lower blood pressure, and combat stress, anxiety and depression. The increasing evidence is so compelling that ‘Nature Prescriptions’ are now being issued by NHS doctors in some parts of the UK, including the High Peak in Derbyshire.
The Nature Prescriptions project, led by the RSPB and the Peak District National Park Authority, began earlier this year. It follows successful trials of a similar project in parts of Scotland, where spending more time in nature helped around 74% of patients.
Anyone can benefit from connecting more with nature – just listening to birdsong through an open window, sitting in a park or garden, or stargazing on a clear night can help improve your wellbeing.
Here in the Peak District, we’re fortunate to have access to lots of green spaces – including nature reserves, where you might see some remarkable plants and animals. Many of these places are completely free to visit too – and taking the family for a walk in the countryside is a good way to keep kids entertained before they return to school in September. You could turn a walk into a nature scavenger hunt, by asking little ones to spot ladybirds, butterflies, bumblebees, animal tracks, acorns, fir cones and fungi (to name a few) along the way.
Here are three ideas for places to visit where it’s easy to connect with nature.
Lea Wood and Aqueduct Cottage
A short stroll along the Cromford Canal brings you to Aqueduct Cottage, a lock-keeper’s cottage that was built in 1802. It’s been carefully restored by Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, and is now open to visitors on Tuesday and Saturday mornings (check times on Derbyshire Wildlife Trust’s website), with fascinating exhibits about the history and nature of the area.
Lea Wood Nature Reserve, next to Aqueduct Cottage and also managed by Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, is a beautiful ancient woodland that’s home to many bird species, including nuthatches, tree creepers, woodpeckers and flycatchers. In late summer and autumn look out for some of the 96 species of fungi found here. There’s a meadow area with a rich diversity of plant life, which is a good place to spot slow worms and grass snakes. Children will enjoy following the Lea Wood Sculpture Trail – a series of numbered posts adorned with sculptures depicting some of the plants and creatures that live in the woodland.
The Eastern Moors Partnership is a joint venture between the National Trust and the RSPB, and manages some 14 square miles of moorland within the Peak District National Park.
This area features a rich tapestry of different habitats, from woodland to bogs to spectacular gritstone edges. It’s home to all sorts of remarkable wildlife, including a resident population of red deer. It’s also one of the few places in the UK where ring ouzels can be found – a rare bird with Red List conservation status, recognisable by its jet-black plumage and distinctive white throat. Adders and lizards can sometimes be seen sunning themselves on rocks at the base of the edges.
There are lots of walking trails on the Eastern Moors, with something to suit everyone – from a short stroll along Birchen Edge to a 10km circuit that takes in Curbar, Froggat, and White Edges. The Eastern Moors Partnership has created a series of downloadable trail guides. These include three Adventure Trails, which have been designed with children in mind, with easy-to-follow maps and illustrations of interesting things to watch out for along the way.
The Peak District is famous for its limestone dales, and Lathkill Dale is one of the finest examples. Part of the Derbyshire Dales National Nature Reserve, managed by Natural England, it’s a fabulous destination for a riverside stroll – the River Lathkill features a beautiful series of cascades, weirs and pools that are home to all sorts of wildlife.
Coots, moorhens, dippers and other water birds can often be seen on the river – and if you’re lucky you might glimpse the unmistakable turquoise and orange streak of a kingfisher darting along the surface of the water. Also look out for water voles!
Plants grow in abundance here too, with wildflower meadows and woods along the dale. A rare plant to found in Lathkill Dale is Jacob’s ladder. With its showy purple blooms that appear in June and July, it can only be found growing wild in a handful of places in the UK – including the Derbyshire Dales. In late spring, the grassy slopes of the dale are carpeted with wildflowers, including orchids and cowslips.
The paths through the nature reserve are easy to access from car parks at Over Haddon, Youlgreave or Monyash. No swimming, bathing or paddling of any kind – by humans or dogs – is allowed in the River Lathkill. This area is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and going into the water could interfere with the wildlife.
Follow the Countryside Code
When visiting nature reserves or other rural areas in the Peak District, be sure to follow the Countryside Code.
Be considerate when parking, by leaving the car in designated parking areas, without blocking access to gates or driveways. Or, even better, take public transport where possible – for example the new Peak Sightseer open-top double-decker bus. This offers a hop-on-hop-off service to access some of the Peak District’s most popular destinations.
To protect crops and wildlife, stick to marked footpaths unless walking on open access land. Close gates behind you to keep livestock safe.
Bag and bin dog waste, and keep dogs on leads to avoid disturbing livestock and wildlife such as ground-nesting birds.
Dispose of all litter in a public waste bin, or take it home with you. Litter can be harmful to animals – they can climb inside plastic bags and suffocate, and injure themselves on sharp cans or broken glass. Some litter, such as disposable vapes or elastic bands, is a choking hazard.
Finally, never light disposable barbeques, unless in a designated area where signs say it’s allowed. Barbeques and sparks from cigarettes can cause wildfires that could devastate wildlife and habitats.