Joe Hark­ness

The blog­ger’s brand-new book re­veals how bird­watch­ing helped him com­bat anx­i­ety.

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Wild At Home -

Why did you write this book?

I wrote Bird Ther­apy to pro­vide an hon­est ac­count of my men­tal health strug­gles and how na­ture has helped me, in the hope that it, too, may help oth­ers. It be­gan as my jour­nal – to record and re­flect on the pos­i­tive im­pact of bird­watch­ing on my well­be­ing – then a friend sug­gested I write a book.

How did you first dis­cover the ben­e­fits of con­nect­ing with na­ture?

Dur­ing the early days of my re­cov­ery jour­ney, I watched a pair of buz­zards dis­play­ing over a tree­line. Their free­dom and majesty were cap­ti­vat­ing, and I longed to ex­pe­ri­ence that again. As my in­ter­est in bird­watch­ing widened and deep­ened, I started to no­tice a tan­gi­ble im­prove­ment in my well­be­ing.

Why do you think na­ture has such a pos­i­tive ef­fect on us?

Fun­da­men­tally, be­cause we are a part of it, so it’s akin to go­ing back to our roots. It also pro­vides us with an es­cape from the chaos of ev­ery­day life.

What is it about bird­watch­ing in par­tic­u­lar that you en­joy?

It’s a multi-faceted and fully-im­mer­sive sen­sory ex­pe­ri­ence. It has so many in­ter­wo­ven strands of in­ter­est, from the ev­ery­day to the rare, from record keep­ing to weather pat­terns. It’s an on­go­ing learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and I’ve tried to de­scribe it in Bird Ther­apy.

You talk about the mind­ful­ness of sound – tell us more about that.

We are never truly just ob­serv­ing birds, it’s the whole pack­age of con­nec­tion that makes the experience­s so spe­cial. The restora­tive prop­er­ties of bird­song are ev­i­dent and re­searched in the book, as is the way we con­nect sounds with places and experience­s.

How can peo­ple make time to con­nect with na­ture dur­ing their busy lives?

Look around you, breathe, take no­tice of the simple and lit­tle plea­sures found in the out­side world. Start with your neigh­bour­hood na­ture and gar­den birds.

How can we in­stil the im­por­tance of na­ture in fu­ture gen­er­a­tions?

Bring back na­ture ta­bles, in­te­grate for­est schools into the na­tional cur­ricu­lum, utilise tech­nol­ogy, such as smart­phones, to en­gage young peo­ple – like macro in­sect pho­tog­ra­phy. We should high­light just how beau­ti­ful and un­der­rated our ev­ery­day wildlife, and es­pe­cially birds, are.

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