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Enabling easy access to the South West's beauty spots

Blog: Sensing Nature

Date Posted: 12 October 2017

Sensing Nature

"We’ve recently linked up with an exciting new research project that’s looking at how natural environments can be used to support wellbeing amongst those with sight impairment.  “Sensing Nature” ( is a two-year project led by the University of Exeter Medical School and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.  Lead researcher, Sarah Bell, is travelling around the country speaking to individuals born with a visual impairment, as well as those experiencing sight loss later in life.  Her aim is to understand more about the complex relationships between senses, emotions, people and places and, in the long term, to encourage a more inclusive approach to landscape design and accessibility.

Sarah says that whilst many studies of the value of nature focus on visual data, there are in fact many non-visual cues in nature that people respond to, such as ‘thinking through the feet’, ‘sight-seeing by ear’ or ‘gazing with the hands’.  Recognising the importance of the wider senses is a vital step if we are to fully appreciate how nature-based experiences can influence our sense of wellbeing, be it positively or negatively.

Sarah wants to encourage site managers to move beyond efforts that simply improve access, going further to promote and support the right to adventure, pleasurable immersion and meaningful connection.  That’s a manifesto we in Heritage Ability are delighted to support!

We’re looking forward to working together, as Sarah’s findings can help our partner site managers develop and trial new approaches to inclusive practice for people with visual impairment; and the feedback we gather can help inform further improvements in policy and practice.  To that end, we’re attending a workshop organised by Sensing Nature at Slimbridge in November.  Watch this space for more news!"

Dominic Acland, Project Manager (Sustainability)