Matt Gaw

The writer and jour­nal­ist ex­plains why he has been ven­tur­ing forth into the dark­ness.

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - OUR WILD WORLD -

What first in­spired you to start walk­ing at night-time?

It was def­i­nitely due to some­thing my then-10-year-old son said. He’d been ar­gu­ing for a later bed­time, and he com­plained about how hu­mans, on av­er­age, spend 26 years asleep. Those words nagged at me, and made me re­alise that my ex­pe­ri­ence of night was re­ally limited; that de­spite my life’s ap­par­ent full­ness, it was, in some ways, only be­ing half lived.

Where are your favourite places to ex­pe­ri­ence na­ture af­ter dark?

In Suf­folk, I’m drawn to Cove­hithe. Due to ero­sion, the beach is con­stantly shift­ing and there is a sense of dy­namism and change, of the land un­rav­el­ling. I’ve spent quite a few nights watch­ing the moon pulling it­self slowly out of the sea and the stars re­volv­ing above me. A bit fur­ther afield, I don’t think I’ll ever for­get the Isle of Coll. There aren’t any street­lights on the is­land and the clar­ity of the Milky Way took my breath away.

Why do you think we are so dis­con­nected from dark­ness now?

The most ob­vi­ous rea­son is that we are sim­ply not used to dark­ness. In the mod­ern era, peo­ple are born into light. Our world drips and glares with it. Ar­ti­fi­cial light has become as­so­ci­ated with safety – de­spite re­search that sug­gests other­wise. The nat­u­ral lights of the stars are snuffed out and the im­por­tance of the moon and the beauty and mean­ing of its cy­cles are lost.

What ef­fect do our ar­ti­fi­cial lights have on wildlife?

The im­pacts of ar­ti­fi­cial light­ing on wildlife are far rang­ing and quite fright­en­ing. We have known for some time that our lights can con­fuse and kill mi­grat­ing birds, but re­search is show­ing that the ef­fects of light run up and down the food chain. The way wildlife hunts, breeds and moves is all in­flu­enced by light.

What would you rec­om­mend to those who want to ex­plore na­ture af­ter dark?

I think of im­mers­ing my­self in the night as be­ing like river or sea swim­ming. Some peo­ple plunge straight in, but I’ve al­ways been very much a lower-my­self-in-gen­tly kind of guy. I would say go some­where you know well and get there be­fore twi­light, to get used to and en­joy the chang­ing light. It’s also an ac­tive time for wildlife, so a good time to be out. Also, though I did the bulk of the walks on my own, there’s no rea­son why you have to go it alone. In fact, one of the mem­o­ries that burns bright­est for me is see­ing a ‘cham­pagne fizz’ of shoot­ing stars with my fam­ily. Me­gan Shersby

Scot­land’s Isle of Coll has been des­ig­nated as a Dark Sky Com­mu­nity.

Un­der the Stars Elliott & Thomp­son, £12.99

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