This week’s Wild Cornwall article from the archives (Issue 138), Jenn Sandiford, Youth Engagement Officer for the Your Shore Beach Rangers project, explores the concept of Blue Minds, and the importance of connecting young people and communities with their environment.
Does the ocean make you happy?
It’s said that wherever you are in Cornwall, you’re never more than 20 minutes from a beach. Small wonder that the ocean has such a massive influence on the county’s residents and visitors.
I was born and bred in Manchester but fell instantly in love with the ocean on a holiday to St Ives when I was 11. It came as no surprise to my family when I moved down here, drawn by the call of the sea and the way it made me feel.
Today, I work for the Your Shore Beach Rangers project. We support the Your Shore Network, which brings together an amazing community of volunteers all dedicated to protecting the sea and shore.
The aim of our Your Shore Beach Rangers project is to inspire young people and communities to get involved in looking aft er the environment through engaging events, workshops and training that will increase their skills for future careers.
Through this, we’re also achieving something more… something fundamental to wellbeing. We’re getting more people interested in the ocean, beach and coastline, not just as something that needs safeguarding, but as something that can actively improve our state of mind.
A calming influence
In 2014, Dr Wallace J. Nichols published his book Blue Mind: How water makes you happier, more connected and better at what you do.
In it he talks of his love for the water and the calming influence it brings, how the ocean reduces stress and the anxiety that can lead to ‘toxic stress’. He also writes about the positive impact water can have on what he refers to as ‘red mind’ — the overload of information and interference we experience through busy lifestyles, city living, technology and social media. He sees it as the root cause of the ‘fight-or-flight’ feelings that many of us experience at some point in our lives.
I once delivered a wellbeing workshop on the beach to a group of young people, where we spoke about stress. I asked them to join me, as we lay on our backs on the sand, eyes closed, listening to the sound of the waves crashing against the shore and sea birds singing around us. Most of the group had never taken the time to lie still and listen, and some struggled to do so, but we did it and achieved a state of relaxation for the rest of the session.
Personally, I find nothing more therapeutic than snorkelling over a kelp forest, watching it sway back and forth with the movement of the ocean, like a living being peacefully breathing away.
For many people in Cornwall, the positive effect of water may seem like common sense and is something that we perhaps take for granted. We have the most beautiful coastline, but I’m still amazed by the number of people living here who have never been to the beach. It’s an untapped, untamed, free resource, there to be used, admired and explored.
Connecting with nature
The Your Shore Network comprises groups of like-minded people, volunteering their time to look aft er their local patch. Many run or attend events throughout the year, engaging with the public, residents and holiday-makers by giving them a guided tour of their playground.
With the emergence of terms such as ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’ and ‘Social Prescription’, it has become apparent that more and more people are becoming disconnected from nature, which is aff ecting people’s health and social welfare. This serves to highlight the importance of continuing the work we do to bridge the gap between people and nature, providing opportunities for everyone to engage with the ocean, in whatever way they feel most comfortable.
Events such as rock pooling, beach cleans, snorkelling and art workshops off er a variety of opportunities for anyone who’s interested to interact with the marine environment. They also provide the opportunity for the social interaction that is oft en lacking within our communities.
Learning valuable lessons
Our volunteers across the network show a huge commitment to educating young people about the coast, delivering workshops for schools, both in and out of the classroom.
Karl Fice-Thomson from Trenance Learning Academy recently delivered some inspiring Beach Rangers Academy training on the benefits of using the beach as a ‘community classroom’, not just to teach young people about the environment, but as a space for all kinds of learning. It allows students to become completely immersed in a natural habitat, bringing them instantly closer to nature and the sea.
The Beach Rangers Project works with several secondary schools, youth groups and colleges in the county, delivering training and getting them down to the beach as oft en as possible so they can interact with the coast.
I love nothing more than getting those young people onto the rocky shore or into the sea – seeing their happy, sleepy expressions at the end of a session. I get to watch them experience the marine environment firsthand, some of them for the very first time. It’s proof of the power of the sea and I’m proud to help them discover a passion for it.
Jenn Sandiford is Youth Engagement Officer for the Your Shore Beach Rangers project. The project combines the two things she’d most passionate about – the development of young people and marine conservation.
Jenn loves nothing more than getting those young people on to the rocky shore or in to the sea, to see that expression at the end of the session (usually happiness and sleepiness), allowing them to experience the marine environment first hand, some for the first time in their young lives.