If you’ve rambled across Britain in recent years, you may have noticed fellow walkers wearing strange contraptions on their backs. This new addition to the UK wildlife scene is the Google Trekker Street View Camera and it’s being used to map 2,500 miles of ancient trails crisscrossing the UK. Here’s how it works (via The Guardian):
The first trail went live this month, March 2016. It covers the North Downs Way and is broken into sections. Here, for example, is Farnham to Guildford. Just click on an arrow to start moving. If you haven’t used Google Street View before, here’s a simple guide to get started.
The aim is to recreate all of the UK National Trails
Hadrian’s Wall path
North Downs Way
Peddars Way and Norfolk coast path
Pembrokeshire coastal path
South Downs Way
South West coast path
Yorkshire Wolds Way
Get more people walking
This project could, says The Guardian, hugely increase the number of people walking these trails.
If “the Google effect”on Britain is anything like “the Wild effect” in the US, there will soon be unprecedented numbers of people walking the national trails that traverse some of the most beautiful countryside in England and Wales.
‘Wild‘ was the name of a book in 2012 and, two years later, a film about writer Cheryl Strayed’s life-affirming journey along the Pacific Crest Trail, the longest walking route in the world, stretching more than 2,600 miles from Mexico to Canada. Before ‘Wild’, only a few hundred hiking permits were issued for the trail every year. Last year it was more than 4,500 – and the number who walked the whole route quadrupled.
Are you inspired to get involved? Google says that if you’re a tourism board, non-profit, university, research organization or other third party who can gain access and help collect imagery of hard to reach places, you can apply to borrow the Trekker and help map the world. Start here.
The Likeways app, say its creators, offers a novel approach towards wayfinding. If you want a direct route between A and B, try Googlemaps or Waze. But if you’re in the mood to meander and you’d rather be directed via a few interesting places, download Likeways (iOS only) and give it a spin. It’s less about geography and more about psychogeography.
It was developed by Austrian Martin Traunmueller, a PhD candidate at University College London’s Intel Collaborative Research Institute for Sustainable Connected Cities. According to CityLab, Likeways reclaims urban walking from the realm of necessary drudgery and frames it as an enjoyable activity in and of itself. Traunmueller’s own wandering through London led him to what his now his favorite coffee shop; in much the same way, he discovered a secret garden in the backyard of an old factory building in London’s tech hub of Shoreditch. With his app, you can do the same.
How does Likeways work?
What makes a place interesting to Likeways is its social media presence. The number of Facebook likes it has indicates its popularity, which in turn prompts the app to include it in the route it generates. The more the route gets pulled towards it, the more likely it is that you’ll discover a snug coffee shop or a stylish boutique you never knew existed on an aimless Saturday afternoon drift around the town.
This example map (right) shows two route options – in grey the shortest route and in blue the Likeway, leading through areas with high density of interesting venues. Feel free to meander at your own speed.
Of course, drifting is not just about coffee shops. Interesting and unexpected features are much more important to the serious psychogeographer. The success of Likeways will lie in the kinds of Facebook pages it taps into, and they in turn are driven by what we choose to post and value.
Let’s hope it grows into a maze of intriguing landmarks.
Have you ever wondered why you feel healthier and happier when you stroll through the trees or frolic by the sea? Is it just that you’re spending time away from work, de-stressing and taking in the view? Or is there more to it?
For more than 20 years, scientists have been trying to determine the mechanisms by which exposure to biodiversity improves health. Japanese scientists pioneered the search when they travelled to the island of Yakushima, famous for its biodiversity.
The Japanese already had a name for the experience of well-being in nature: shinrin-yoku or “forest bathing”.
We do know that a diverse ecosystem supports a varied and beneficial microbial community living around and inside us.
We also know that exposure to green space, even within urban environments, increases our physical and mental well-being. But what are the mechanisms?
The forest air
The Japanese researchers suggested that we are taking in beneficial substances when we breathe forest air.
Research has identified three major inhaled factors that can make us feel healthier. These factors are beneficial bacteria, plant-derived essential oils and negatively-charged ions.
From birth to the grave, beneficial bacteria surround us; they live in the environment and, importantly, in the air we breathe. We also share almost our entire body with them. The more interaction we have with them, the happier and healthier we are.
This is in part due to our gut-dwelling bacteria, which break down the food we cannot digest and produce substances that benefit us both physically and mentally.
Plants and the bacteria living on them can produce essential oils to fight off harmful microorganisms. These are referred to collectively as phytoncides, literally, “plant-derived exterminators”.
Research on the health benefits of plant essential oils is in its infancy. But one recent study found that a phytoncide from Korean pine trees improved the health and bacterial make-up of pigs.
Notwithstanding some of the pseudoscience that gets wrapped around negative ion generating machines, there is evidence that negative air ions may influence mental outlook in beneficial ways. There are relatively higher levels of negative air ions in forested areas and close to bodies of water. This may factor into the benefits of walking in a forest or near the ocean.
But as the German writer Goethe once said:
Nature has neither kernel nor shell; she is everything at once.
Bacteria, essential oils and negative ions interact and influence each other. For example, negative ions and phytoncides may dictate the microbial make-up within a natural environment. There is evidence that this could also be taking place in the human gut.
More to be done
Nature-relatedness, or biophilia in which an individual feels connected to nature, has been linked with better health.
But we have a long way to go before we can more fully understand the mechanisms by which an innate love of nature can benefit our health. An important part of this discussion – an overlooked one in our opinion – is further understanding of an individual’s connection to nature.
Psychologists have convincingly demonstrated connections between nature relatedness and mental well-being. But how does a greater personal affinity to nature interact with dietary habits, personal microbiome, physical activity levels and many other lifestyle variables that might be intertwined with having such an affinity?
In the meantime, while scientists turn over stones and search for important mechanistic clues – including those related to biodiversity – there are many simple ways to capitalise on our biophilia.
Critically, there is increasing evidence that we can help shape our children’s mental and physical health by exposing them to more green environments as they work, rest and play. The US-based Children and Nature Network is a great resource of research news and activities bringing children and nature together.
Considering ‘microbial diversity’ as an ecosystem service provider may contribute to bridging the chasm between ecology and medicine/immunology [… ] the relationships our individual bodies have with our microbiomes are a microcosm for the vital relationships our species shares with countless other organisms with which we share the planet.
It is easy to see that discussions of natural environments and human health are no mere matter of intellectual fancy.
In a paper published last month in Journal of Physiological Anthropology, we’ve called for more research into the links between biodiversity and human physical and mental well-being, particular in relation to childhood, that most formative of times.
Wouldn’t it be good if by nurturing our environment we were also nurturing our children’s future health?