“THERE has been a lot of discussion," says Lucy Jones, author of Losing Eden: Why Our Minds Need The Wild, "about rewilding our land in recent years, and also a growth of interest in the idea of rewilding ourselves or our minds and souls. I feel we’re born wild. We’re born animals. And then we are dewilded almost. In our society and culture, we clearly see ourselves as apart from nature. We’re in some way estranged and severed from our wild roots.”

When, last year, I was working with photographer Anna Deacon, on our book about wild-swimming, Taking The Plunge, one of the things that struck me was how many people said they came to the water because it gave them a connection with nature. They felt a pleasure in being immersed and connected to the life that swum and floated around them. “Being in the landscape, in nature, is a key thing about swimming in the sea for me,” said East Lothian swimmer Lil Vischer, “and it’s the one landscape you can get into, right up to your nose. A complete immersion.”

Our book looked at some of the research into what plunging into chilly water and exposing yourself to sudden cold water shock was doing to us physiologically, and how that might link with its increasingly vaunted physical and mental health benefits. We also touched briefly on how time spent in nature is being shown, in a myriad of ways, to be good for us. In Shetland, GPs have been authorised to give "green prescriptions" such as rambling or bird-watching . As a society we are waking up to the fact that stepping outside and finding some green space, might be not just be enjoyable, but therapeutic. A new book on the subject, by Isabel Hardman, is even catchily titled The Natural Health Service.

Next weekend, a clutch of authors who have an interest in the kind of nature-connecting activities are speaking at Aye Write – these include Alice Vincent, author of the millennial gardening memoir Rootbound: Rewilding A Life, Lucy Jones, Anna Deacon and myself, as well as Gregory Kenicher, author of Scottish Plant Lore.

But connecting to nature doesn’t have to involve a long hike in the hills, or plunge in a river – it can be done closer to home. Rootbound author Alice Vincent’s rewilding has been in urban gardening. “I couldn’t leave London. My life was in the city, my support network was there, and I found greater excitement and reassurance in seeing plants thrive in the cracks in the concrete and being able to tend a tiny little plot.” Gardening, she says, “slowed me down, offered me a kind of meditation that I couldn’t find anywhere else in my life.”

One person who has looked more deeply than most into this question of the science of why we respond as we do to nature, is Losing Eden author Lucy Jones. Her journey into researching why we feel better when we take a break in some green space, or wander along a beach, or tend a garden, began with her own rewilding. Jones turned to nature, to long walks in Walthamstow Marshes, as her a healing form of rehab following drug and alcohol addiction. She writes, beautifully, "Nature picked me up by the scruff of my neck, and I rested in her teeth for a while."

The research she discovered on why being in nature is good for us was hugely diverse. “My mind was blown by the variety and depth of the evidence ,” she says.

She delved into studies in the field of biophilia – biologist EO Wilson’s term for the idea that we have an innate affinity to other life, and are drawn to living things, and that is an expression of our genes. Jones was interested in why, for instance, we were attracted to certain landscapes, trees, or vistas. “One of the things that I personally noticed was that there was a sprawling, dark yew tree in the entrance of the cemetery and very time I went under this quite thick, deep canopy, I always felt like I had taken a split-second yoga class.”

When she looked at studies around tree shape, she found research by Gordon Orians at the University of Washington, that showed we prefer trees that are the same shape as those that would have helped us, by offering shelter and safety, in our evolutionary history. “These are trees,” she says, “with a broad canopy that spreads in width further than its height and it has umbrella-like branches and small leaves.”

That sense of biophilia is also there in our feelings about open waters. The idea that we have a “blue mind” that responds to being near water, was popularised by Wallace Nichols, in his book The Blue Mind: he Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do. Even looking at images of water relaxes us. Project Soothe, a study at Edinburgh University, has been finding that many of the images we find most relaxing and soothing are those involving water.

Jones discovered that MRI scans are showing that looking at fractals, the kind of patterns we find regularly in nature – in a tree, a shell, a fern – lowers our stress levels. She also looked into the research that had been done into sense of awe – that feeling we have when we look at a mountain landscape or the sun setting over the sea. “There’s a really exciting new field of the science of awe which has come out of California in the last ten years. Most awe experiences do come through contact with nature. At this laboratory in Berkley California, they studied the effect of awe experiences on an inflammation biomarker in the body, cytokines. They tested for these with various positive emotions and found that it was only awe that reduced levels of cytokines to a significant degree.” Cytokines, she points out, are associated with disease, depression and ill health. “That suggested that these awe experiences weren’t only giving us a momentary boost of wonder, they were also having a direct influence on our health and life expectancy.”

A great deal of research in her book covers the importance of trees and green spaces. “When I set out on my journey, I instinctively knew that trees are nice and having them on your road is nice in some way. But I didn’t expect the strength of the evidence. Studies have found having trees on the street where you live relates to lower levels of anti-depressant use.Tree cover, seeing green, has a measurable impact on public health. It affects mental health, physical health, longevity of life.”

But not all of us have the same opportunities to connect with green spaces. “There’s an inequality of access to nature," says Jones, "and inequality of access to quality of nature as well. People in lower socio-economic groups or from racial and ethnic minorities usually have less access to green space and parks than those who are white and affluent. In towns and cities, there are fewer parks in deprived areas, compared with affluent areas. ”

Yet, good access to green space is something that actually has the potential to help reduce health inequality. One of the experts Jones interviewed was Professor Rich Mitchell of the Social and Public Health Sciences Unit at Glasgow University, who has pioneered the concept of equigenesis – the idea that certain environments can reduce the gap between the rich and the poor by weakening the link between socio-economic inequality and health inequality. His studies e have shown that people who lived near parks and woodlands had lower levels of income- related health inequalities

Such research suggests that it isn't just important that we rewild ourselves, but that we rewild our cities and societies. We need a wider rewilding revolution. As Jones puts it, "It should be a human right for everybody to have access to the natural world – and that’s something we’re failing at as a society."

The authors mentioned in this piece, Vicky Allan, Anna Deacon, Lucy Jones and Alice Vincent, will be speaking at events at Aye Write in Glasgow on March 14.

Everyday ways to rewild your life

Take a micro-break

According to Lucy Jones, you don’t have to go on a long hike in the wilderness to get the benefits of nature. “You can do it in a micro-break,” she says. “Studies have found that if we take green micro breaks at work – looking at a tree, even a pot plant, or out of a window onto a garden, it helped concentration for people who are feeling mentally fatigued.”

Smell the earth after it has rained

That aroma is called petrochor, and the compound, Lucy Jones says, it contains is geosmin. “If you’ve smelt that it’s a beautiful smell. Early studies have shown that when people smell that, it activates parts of the brain associated with relaxation and calmness.”

Get up early and listen to the dawn chorus

Studies show that listening birdsong or other natural sounds make a difference to our mental and physical health.

Walk to work, or meet friends for an amble rather than a drink

Just taking a walk to work through a tree-lined avenue or a park, can potentially have therapeutic benefit. Lucy Jones says, “I’ve found that suggesting to a friend to meet up for walks is quite a cool way of incorporating nature in. I don’t drink anymore, I try to meet up for walks with friends.”