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Source: Massey University

Dr Catherine Knight is an Honorary Researcher at Massey University’s School of People, Environment and Planning.

A new book by Dr Catherine Knight pushes for more “neighborhood nature” to improve the wellbeing of all New Zealanders. 

Honorary Researcher at Massey University’s School of People, Environment and Planning, Dr Knight explains in her new book “Nature and Wellbeing in Aotearoa New Zealand” (Totara Press) that much of New Zealand’s beautiful nature is out of reach for many and urges for more green spaces in the places like cities and towns. 

Countless scientific studies have shown the link between time spent in nature or urban green space to a range of wellbeing benefits: lower levels of stress, reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety, and improved cognition in children with attention deficits and individuals with depression.

Dr Knight says unlike her previous books which are primarily environmental history, this book was driven more by intuitive rather than intellectual curiosity.

“In times of stress or emotional upheaval, I am always drawn to being in nature, even if it’s just the little gully stream at the bottom of our block in the Pohangina Valley. It always grounds me and brings me solace. 

“So drawing on that personal perspective, and after reading around the subject, I just felt that this was an important topic to explore from a uniquely New Zealand perspective.”

Although she started working on the book in 2018, Dr Knight says she never would have imagined how relevant and timely this book would be due to the pandemic.

“This year, and the impacts of Covid-19, has only reinforced the importance of having oases of nature around us.”

The lockdown experience led many of us to realise how important our neighbourhood green spaces are – for walking, cycling, or just getting some fresh air, whilst also accentuating certain inequities in our society, Dr Knight says. 

For those of us who live in the country or in leafy suburbs, having more time to spend in local parks or walking along a river or coastal walkway might have felt more like a gift than an imposition. However, for those living in neighbourhoods with few places to enjoy the outdoors, connecting with nature may not have been a high priority during lockdown.

Nature and Wellbeing in Aotearoa New Zealand tells the stories of a wide range of New Zealanders, who – either individually or through organised initiatives – have experienced the wellbeing benefits gained through connection with nature. 

Dr Knight says there are so many reasons for having more nature in our world: biodiversity, climate change, flood mitigation, and clean air to list a few. However, many of these can seem quite distant from “ordinary people” who may not see broader environmental impacts while wellbeing is more obvious to individuals. 

“The wellbeing benefits of nature is a powerful argument for creating more nature spaces in and around the cities and towns where we live, which will bring all these wider environmental benefits also.” 

Accompanied by stunning photography and drawing on the latest scientific research and personal stories, Dr Knight’s new book challenges readers to contemplate a more nature-rich future – as she puts it: “An Aotearoa New Zealand where every New Zealander can benefit from being in nature, any day of their life.”

For more information about Dr Knight’s new book or her previous works head to

About the author

Dr Catherine Knight is the award-winning author of four previous books: Beyond Manapouri: 50 years of environmental politics in New Zealand (CUP, 2018), Wildbore: A photographic legacy (Totara Press, 2018), New Zealand’s Rivers: An environmental history (CUP, 2016) and Ravaged Beauty: An environmental history of the Manawatu (Dunmore Press, 2014). Catherine is a Senior Research Associate at the Institute for Policy and Governance Studies, Victoria University of Wellington and an Honorary Researcher, School of People, Environment and Planning, Massey University. 

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