TIME FOR NATURE
Connected with the natural world
The value of taking time to stand, stare and wonder cannot be underestimated.
This happy circumstance is brought home to me every Monday when I volunteer as a welcomer at Norwich Cathedral.
Here, between April and July, we are just as likely to be asked ‘which way to your peregrines’ as ‘which way to the Presbytery’.
People are galvanised to take an interest in being able to witness part of the soap opera which is the Norwich peregrines’ nesting cycle.
Folk can watch the shenanigans of the breeding falcons via a live feed provided by the Hawk and Owl Trust. More importantly they can stand in the fresh air and watch these beautiful birds in the flesh through telescopes provided by this worthy conservation body. Knowledgeable volunteers are always on hand in a speciallyerected marquee to further enhance the experience.
Click! A connection has been made.
The reason I’m keenly aware of the need to invest time and effort into raising awareness of the natural splendours of this planet is largely thanks to having worked for a couple of years on a Norfolk Wildlife Trust project aptly called Natural Connections.
It was designed to do precisely what it says on the tin - connect people with the natural world, or rather reconnect them with something they had lost.
The essence of our work was to galvanise the inhabitants of two demographically diverse parishes within Norfolk to become actively involved with nature.
To this end we held workshops in their respective village halls on wildly ranging subjects like birds, mammals, trees, plants and bats. We arranged for experts to host fungi forays, pond dipping, photography workshops and mothtrapping sessions.
We encouraged people to record butterfly sightings and even arranged for the BBC to lend video equipment so parishioners could record what they found. And we also helped teachers get their young charges involved in making nest boxes and recording what they saw on their way to and from school.
It was wonderful and the most worthwhile occupation I’ve ever had. The culmination of the parishioner’s efforts, young and old, was, in one case, the production of an illustrated booklet documenting the natural history of the area, and in the other a series
of professionally printed maps illustrating public walks around the parish.
The personal legacy from this is having made friends that some years after the project ended still engage enthusiastically with nature and admit to the whole experience having changed their lives. Click!
There is an acute need to reestablish links between us humans and nature, after all everything on the planet shares the same basic elemental composition and shares the same environment.
Involving young people is key. Who can fail to be moved by the look of wonder on a child’s face when they see a swallowtail butterfly?
What price the experience when youngsters become so fascinated with the contents of owl pellets that you struggle to drag them away from the soggy mess in the dish?
How can you put value to the sight of a scrum of young heads crowded around the contents of a pond-dipping tray, or the excited chatter when something unusual like a grass snake or kingfisher appears?
It brings a smile to everyone’s face and for a brief moment makes all the planning and stress so worthwhile. Such things are beyond price.
We must safeguard against becoming armchair nature lovers, happy to watch images of lions hunting gazelles, or orcas flushing seals off Antarctic ice flows on TV, while forgetting we have similar excitement at home.
Step outside, tune your ears to the music of birdsong, delight in the vibrant intricacy of a butterfly wing, hold your breath when an unexpected encounter with a deer provides that magic split-second eye contact, and feel the wildness. Click!
It doesn’t take much; we can all enhance our lives at no cost and little effort. We can all become connected. For me a resurgent interest in photography has allowed me to really connect. It seems to add a whole new dimension to my days out and most importantly makes me look.
I’ve taken to peering into bushes hunting for insects, waiting immobile for a kingfisher to alight on a favoured perch and seeking out small orchids amongst seemingly uniform tangles of grass.
There really is a never-ending supply of subjects ready to be snapped. Click, click, click …
The Norwich Cathedral Peregrines. Pictured: The ‘eyasses’ at Day 30: Three looking at their parent flying by and the fourth trying to pull meat from a bone. Photograph: The Hawk and Owl Trust.