Yorkshire Sculpture Park and University of Derby aim to connect public with nature through art

Image: © Jonty Wilde

Yorkshire Sculpture Park and the University of Derby have joined forces as part of a new arts initiative to build a connection between the British public and nature.

The Oak Project, established with the aim of inspiring public action in response to the climate crisis, will launch its first artist commission – to be hosted at Yorkshire Sculpture Park – in the coming months.

The initiative, which hopes to engage half a million people during its inaugural year of programming, has been developed following recent psychological research which demonstrates the important role art can play in building a sense of connection to nature.

“Our research shows the power of arts-based, sensory and meaningful emotion-based activities in building a closer connection to nature,” explains Miles Richardson, professor of nature connectedness at the University of Derby.

“When people are connected to nature, they are much more likely to do more to help the environment. These pro-environmental behaviours could be anything from buying a reusable coffee cup, recycling waste, feeding the birds and planting wildflowers through to signing petitions or joining a ‘clean-up’ activity. Nature connection is key to a more sustainable lifestyle and a new relationship with nature”.


An initial five-year plan is in place for the scheme to pioneer arts participation that creates kinship with nature throughout the country – and the team behind the project think it can’t start work quickly enough.

“We are living in an environmental crisis. The science is unequivocal – unless we take drastic action, and soon, we face both ecological and climate collapse,” states Charlie Burrell, co-founder of The Oak Project.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has shown how rapidly change can happen in response to a crisis, and how quickly nature can recover when given space to do so. We need to build upon these glimmers of hope and work to rebalance our relationship with the natural world for the long term, and we’re excited about the role the arts can play within this.”

Clare Lilley, Yorkshire Sculpture Park’s director of programme, agrees with Burrell that The Oak Project is “extremely well placed and timed to create positive action in response to climate-anxiety and compromised mental health highlighted by Covid-19”.

The scheme will, she adds, provide people “access to art and nature in a way that will support mental, physical and spiritual health as well as catalysing terrific new projects by practicing artists”.


Aside from the expertise of Yorkshire Sculpture Park and the University of Derby, The Oak Project is also supported by Bronze Oak Project Ltd, a non-profit organisation specialising in promoting art as a means to create nature connection.