Nature is everywhere. Its a common misconception that you must travel to remote lands, on a perfect day, far away from human settlements, in order to really encounter 'proper' nature. The main issue is, somewhere along the line, we lost our ability to notice nature. Worse, we forget how to connect with it. Nature is fundamental to humanity. We are all intertwined. Sometimes even I, an unapologetic nature lover and wildlife conservationist, forget to take notice and my life suddenly seems that little bit less colourful
So today, I am going to take you with me on 3 steps that anyone can take to reconnect with nature. As we have all become more sedentary, I will demonstrate that this can be achieved in your local patch, or even in the comfort of your own home. I'll warn you now, once you start, you may become addicted...
Open your senses
The first step is perhaps the simplest yet can feel the most challenging. I want you to notice nature. I want you to use all of your senses. The more you notice, the more your senses will perk up. To reiterate, this can happen anywhere. Yes, completing this on top of a hill, surrounded only by trees and mountains, with the sea glimmering in the distance, may be the ideal setting. But I don't want you to wait for the ideal setting.
Instead, incorporate it within your daily habits. Even if your days are spent primarily at home. Making tea? Why don't you spend some time looking out the window whilst the kettle boils? Let yourself take in the blue sky, the rich green of vegetation and maybe a bird or two. Over lunch, why don't you open a window, or better yet, just pop outside your door? Allow yourself to soak up the fresh smells. Even in less than ideal weather, this will be worth is. Let the rain rest on your eyelashes, the colder air reawaken your features. More invigorating than any cup of coffee...
If you are not completely confined to your home then let nature entice you on your daily commute. When passing trees, pause to rest a hand upon them a moment. Note the rough bark under your fingers. Let this encounter ground you. Borrow some of tree's insurmountable strength to fuel your day.
Even in the most urban of settings, there are glimpses of wildlife. The next time you are on a paved street, look down and I am sure you will notice a wealth of life nestled within the paving slabs. Tiny beings of lichen or moss, packed full with the colour of life. Whispering encouragement to you as you pass.
The best thing about this first step is that, over time, you won't even need to try. It will become as natural as breathing. Once this is achieved, you are ready for step two.
2. Learn about your fellow creatures
So, now your senses are fully enlivened, you might naturally start wondering about these creatures that you sense all around you. What is the name of the bird whose song you waken to every morning? How many different species of tree do we have in the UK? How do bees know which flowers to visit? And where an earth are all the baby pigeons?
Humans are curious beings. Rarely can we observe passively. Once something sparks an interest, we want to know more. This can feel intimidating, but no one is expecting you to become a wildlife expert overnight. Take micro-steps. I would recommend investing in some basic wildlife ID books, or there are some great apps available, with the Collins Bird Guide and the Woodland Trust apps being some of my favourites. Get familiar with the common species, those you see every day, and you'll be surprised how quickly and easily you retain this information. Once your garden visitors all have their appropriate names, they will become that bit more charming.
One of the best ways to connect with nature is to capture these moments with your creativity. Take notes and photographs of your nature rambles. Creating a nature journal can be a wonderful experience. Fill it with hand-scribbled observations, sketches, paintings, poems or even pressed samples themselves. Moments of perfection Let nature inspire you to pursue your creativity in which ever way suits you. Remember, this is just between you and nature. No one else needs to see your work, unless you want them too of course! This is a pressure-free zone. Nature doesn't judge.
3. Bring more nature into your life
This leads us to the final step. How to bring even more nature into your life. One of the easiest ways of achieving this is to encourage wildlife to visit your home. The internet is full of grand projects that can make your garden a wildlife haven. From luxurious ponds to towering bug hotels, if this is what you want to achieve, then go ahead! However, not all of us have the space, or the time, to be quite that ambitious. But don't let that put you off. Just putting out a couple of bird feeders will soon have many a new character flock to your garden. Even tiny gardens can fit in a few pots. You can cram these with bee and butterfly enticing species, like lavender, so your space is full of flashes of colour. No garden at all? How about a window box? Or a hanging basket? Maybe even a couple of cleverly positioned fat balls. To us, this is minimal. To wildlife, these resources can be the difference between life and death. Never underestimate your ability to help nature.
Beyond furnishing your own space, their are a wealth of activities that can be done slightly further afield. Many community gardens and wildlife conservation organisations welcome volunteers to help with their work. From planting trees to monitoring butterflies, the opportunities can be numerous. I hope that, as restrictions lift, people will be able to engage with these activities more and more.
For me, nature has been an invaluable source of comfort throughout this pandemic. I feel closer to my local wildlife than ever before. Apparently, I am not the only one. The RSPB (the organisation I work for) has seen record highs in engagement with its citizen science project the 'Big Garden BirdWatch' this year. As people have been forced to slow down, nature has crept into our viewfinders. Reminding us it was always there and, I hope, always will be.
It is my secret hope that humanity may start valuing nature as it should. All it needed was for people to care. If this, and nothing else, comes as a result from this pandemic, it is something good for us to hold onto.