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National Parks Week

Next week is National Parks Week. To celebrate there is a multitude of events going on all over the country. You can find out more about what's on here or by going to the individual park's websites for a full list of events and festivals.

What makes a park "National"? There are 10 National Parks in England, 3 in Wales and 2 in Scotland.

They are: England - Broads, Dartmoor, Exmoor, Lake District, New Forest, Northumberland, North York Moors, Peak District, Yorkshire Dales, and South Downs.

Wales - Brecon Beacons, Pembrokeshire Coast, and Snowdonia

Scotland - Cairngorms and Loch Lomond & the Trossachs.

The National Parks Authorities conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of our land. They also promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of national parks by the public.

National Park's Week is a celebration of our great, wide open spaces. By respecting, visiting and valuing our National Parks we allow them to endure for future generations. So, why do we crave these broad vistas and changing scenery?

Here's one theory...

In his 1995 paper about Attention Restoration Theory, Stephen Kaplan suggests that mental fatigue and concentration can be improved by time spent in, or looking at nature. He theorises that the capacity of the brain to focus on a specific stimulus or task is limited and results in 'directed attention fatigue'. To properly recharge our concentration he recommends that we seek out time to be away from our norm. Further studies have shown benefits of being in an environment with what Kaplan loosely terms as being rich in 'undramatic fascinations'. Further described as places with elements of extent (i.e. space, for example a sweeping horizon or quiet pathway to attract our interest) and compatibility (for an easy example compare the stress of crossing a busy street with the effortlessness of strolling through a meadow.)

To test his hypothesis he challenged people to complete puzzles after spending time in different environments. Kaplan discovered that even when people spent time UNCOMFORTABLY in nature, for example in the cold or wet, they could still solve puzzles better after time spent in such an "undramatically fascinating" environment than in their normal working space.

Taking time out can seem tough at the best of times but it would appear that those hours spent relaxing will actually save us in the long run. If we can think and act at a higher level of mental acuity after a rest in natural surroundings then we can get more out of our working day as a result. A full day's work and a stroll in the fresh air, that's surely a Two for One!

I know a lot of you will be on holidays just now so have a look at the map of National Parks across the UK which I've copied from the brilliant National Parks Website. I hope you can seek out some undramatic fascinations next week and make the most of our natural heritage.

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