Con­nected with the nat­u­ral world

Let's Talk - - CONTENTS - Barry Mad­den

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.

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