This was underlined recently when I joined in the Wildlife Trust’s Wild Live event on the theme of ‘Is education letting down young people and nature?’. This explored the best examples of where schools and young people’s groups, forest and beach schools and the like, were bringing outdoor learning to the fore and the massive health and mental benefits it brings. The conclusion though was there isn’t enough of it and it is often isolated to wider education and needs to be part of everything, of life in general. Climate change science is hardly taught at all and many teachers don’t feel confident in delivering outdoor learning. It needs investment.
Dr Amir Khan, a GP ambassador for the Wildlife Trusts, emphasised that we know and have all the hard evidence of the good that learning outside does for young people and indeed everyone. Being outside helps reduce many chronic diseases and being in nature actually sharpens our minds so we learn better. It’s as if we are hyper-connected to the stuff of life and that enables us to be fully oxygenated and stimulated in our senses and the way our nervous systems work. Nature is our natural habitat and feed our brains and bodies, also our spirit, and our happiness. His message to Government, was a loud, ‘we know this, we don’t want any more reports or studies, we just want action, now, to integrate nature with all aspects of education’.
I’d go further, we need to see this integration across all aspects of life. It’s part of a lifelong learning process and therapeutic at the same time. A nature centred life is a healthier and happier life. You only have to look at people like our older trustees and vice presidents who have immersed themselves all their lives in nature, to see how they have thrived and gained massively from making this central to all they do!
What I personally focus on more than ever, in this regard, is not just watching wildlife and looking for things, but allowing myself to really feel part of the whole picture. I take increasing joy in the absolute wonder of the patterns of life, be it the seasons and micro changes in my local environment, or the serendipitous things that just appear when you aren’t expecting. It’s the feeling of synchronicity and a sixth sense when you witness or are part of a seemingly ‘magic moment’ in nature.
For me, like many, it’s exciting and relaxing, listing to and drawing the wildlife I see every day. But I am also keen to go deeper than that, to really immerse myself and assimilate nature with all my awareness and senses.
I am culturing I think a hypersensitivity to natural happenings, a true sense of wonder in it all. This has come from being in one place for longer than ever before, being in a new place which is still a hotspot for biodiversity’. In addition, it’s about needing the calm, peace and excitement nature brings, to offset the oddness and tragedy of the Covid months and all the potential stresses and negatives it has and is bringing.
One particular passage, among many, from my journal, illustrates what I’ve been feeling more in my special times in nature, it’s about one of those moments of, ‘right time and place’.
As I push, bent double, through the overgrown path along the beck-side, near the old fish ladder wall, I stand up for a moment and gaze through a sort of porthole, created by a circle of holly and ivy branches, and lean on a branch at chest height, to regain my balance.
I take in the full heat of the first hot sun of spring and gaze through the framed view of the river bank across from me. As I do so, I notice colour and movement, I raise my binoculars slowly and focus on two grey wagtails, resplendent in the sun, their tails like horizontal metronomes, wagging gently, syncopated, one with the other.
They are checking out the river cliff for nesting, the male with his slate grey back and moustachioed face, citrus yellow in the glancing light, keeps looping up to examine a certain cleft and then floats back down to the lighter coloured female below, looks at her and makes several musical chirps, as if he’s telling her about it.
The sun is really hot on my face and hands. I lower the binoculars and keep my eye on the liquid movement of the pair, which are close enough to see in outline. I notice my breath has slowed, in fact I’m hardly breathing, there is no pounding heartbeat, I feel very still, totally relaxed. The scent of wild garlic is all around, and I glimpse my first violets and ‘wood star’ anemones, just below me, on the bank. Looking again towards the wagtails I see them now as a blur of bright yellow amongst the chaotic pattern of bright green and red brown of the rock.
The stream runs metallic and cool below, everything apart from it and the wagtails’ tails is still. Not moving, not thinking ‘what’s next’, I just stay there looking, taking it all in, in one go. It is as if time has momentarily stopped.
In these ways, I feel I have tuned towards our ‘Natural Health Service’ more than ever. As a consequence, I want to engender this in others and massively increase through NWT people’s engagement throughout life with nature, more than ever, like sharing an elixir!
We are already planning how we can do this. Using greater youth enablement and engagement, more outdoor education activity, working with farmers and landowners to make everywhere wilder, giving better access to our own sites and utilising Hauxley and Northumberlandia as gateways to healthy absorption of wildness. In addition, we’re bringing through events and every interaction we have with people, a finer appreciation of wild things and places.
I guess what I’m saying here, is that the last year has allowed me to deepen into nature for my own benefit and as a consequence, I want to do even more to spread this effect that many have tuned into for the first time, and capitalise on nature’s popularity, while it lasts. Northumberland Wildlife Trust and the Wildlife Trusts are the perfect vehicle for this.
Underneath it all, I am driven, as I believe all conservationists are, by the simple truth that by getting enough people (at least 1 in 4) to switch onto nature and really value and want more of it, we will eventually love this planet so much we will not let it fail. If nothing else comes out of Covid this is a pretty good mission and goal, if we can seize the moment!