Hello, my name is Douglas Hart and I’m one of the Rangers at Durlston Country Park. I perform a diverse array of duties and one of them is hosting sessions with the local memory café in partnership with Stepping into Nature. This is not what I’d call my area of expertise; I freely confess that I don’t have much of a health and wellbeing background and in the beginning, I found it rather challenging. Finding ways for people with a wide range of ability and mobility to engage with nature together was not straightforward. I tried several activities, including a willow weaving workshop, some gardening and a few other things but something about the way I delivered them always felt off.

The answer finally dawned on me with the help of one of the parks volunteers, a lady called Hazel who had a much better idea of how to run the meetings than I did. From the start, she understood the truth, that I was fixating far too much on the outcomes of the activities I was running and not enough on the experience. We’d sit down to make flower wreaths and I’d obsess over whether our visitors had got the frame right, or whether they were threading in the flowers properly. Meanwhile Hazel would spend time talking to our visitors, making them feel welcome and generally making sure that all involved had a good time. It took a long time for me to grasp this message, but eventually I understood. I’d been so focused on the outcome of the activities I planned, I completely forgot the reason for doing them in the first place.

Since this revelation I’ve started doing things differently. The group has gone out on a wildlife safari of the car park (which is surprisingly rich), a great way to allow those with reduced mobility to get out and see some nature. We’ve sat by the pond and enjoyed seeing newts and migratory birds, as well as had visits from a therapy dog. In short, we’ve started taking our time to appreciate the natural world on its own merits. Not only has this created a space for people with dementia to enjoy the natural world, but it’s also provided some much-needed rest and relaxation for their carers.

Again, I am no expert, but I believe this is the principal at the core of mindfulness, something we can all benefit from. It’s about being in the moment, using your senses to appreciate nature and not trying to transform your experience into anything. William Henry Davies had it right all along:

What is this life, if full of care?

We have no time to stand and stare.