Experiencing nature


Text Arend Hoogervorst Photographs Joshua Gaunt via Unsplash

Joys of experiencing nature

I read an article recently describing work done by a group of academics at Rhodes University on the varied benefits and joys of experiencing nature. They said the benefits of experiencing nature for physical, psychological and spiritual well-being were well documented. However, they added, much of this research had been done in relatively affluent countries in the global north.


The academics reported on research they had carried out, over past decades, on isiXhosa-speaking people of the Eastern Cape in urban and rural settings. The study explored the relationship these people have with their natural environment. They found that across a range of urban to rural locations, age and gender, most people interviewed had a strong appreciation for nature. Even though many had limited access to natural spaces and seldom visited them, they valued such spaces for their contribution to a sense of well-being, identity and shared heritage. Many also described how experiencing nature eased feelings of hardship, stress, and loneliness.

Verifying findings

To test these findings, the researchers undertook an in-depth, questionnaire-based survey of nearly 700 Eastern Cape rural and urban residents. They included questions about respondents’ feelings of attachment to nature, past and present access to nature, cultural and religious beliefs and practices and reminiscences about the happiest and saddest periods of their lives and whether being in nature featured in those memories.


56% of respondents said they accessed nature during the best times of their lives. The reasons for this included that being in nature contributed to a sense of well-being and joy. Many commented on the loss of family and close friends as a significant factor concerning the worst times of their lives. In mourning for lost ones, some remarked that they experienced peace and calm in nature, which helped them in their healing process. Some said the peaceful surroundings in nature were similar to prayer, whilst others sensed the presence of their ancestors.

Grassland and forest adjacent to homesteads in the Eastern Cape.

Photo: Joshua Gaunt (Unsplash)

Nature deficit disorder

Richard Louv is an American journalist who wrote the book, Last Child in the Woods, and is credited with coining the term “Nature Deficit Disorder” (The idea that human beings, especially children, are spending less time outdoors than they have in the past, and the belief that this change results in a wide range of behavioural problems.) He refers to a study of 20,000 people by a team led by Mathew White of the European Centre for Environment & Human Health at the University of Exeter. They found that people who spent two hours a week in green spaces (local parks or other natural environments), either all at once or spaced over several visits, were substantially more likely to report good health and psychological well-being than those who didn’t.

Benefits of Krantzkloof

It is, therefore, no surprise that the people of Kloof and greater eThekwini, in their considerable numbers, have benefitted so much from the bountiful resources and joys of the Krantzkloof Nature Reserve.

The reality

At the time of writing (15th May 2023), Krantzkloof Nature Reserve is “Closed until further notice, due to insurance delays with flood damage repairs. Updated 30th March 2023” (Quoted from the Krantzkloof webpage). It is sad that such an important facility that benefits the well-being of the Community should be closed for so long because of heartless administrative inefficiencies.


Editor’s Note: A recent article by environmental journalist, Tony Carnie in the Daily Maverick provides another perspective on the issue in this Opinion Column.

About the author

Arend Hoogervorst is an environmental scientist with 40 years of experience in South Africa in environmental management and sustainable development in local and central government, commerce and industry and private practice.

© Arend Hoogervorst, 2023. Used with permission.