Do you feel connected? I don't mean technologically with iPad, smartphone, Twitter and all things digital, but naturally connected and in touch with the wild side of life? There is a whole world out there to enjoy but somehow it seems so many of us have become disconnected, to spend our lives in some sort of sensory vacuum; a bubble providing insulation and isolation from the outside. In our wi-fi driven age we have perhaps forgot to look out of the window.
The value of taking time to stand, stare and wonder cannot be underestimated I think. This happy circumstance is brought home to me every Monday when I volunteer as a welcomer at Norwich Cathedral (I know, I'm just as amazed that they let me in). 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 the phenomenon of being able to witness part of the soap opera which is the Norwich peregrines nesting cycle. Folk can watch the shenanigans of the now quite experienced 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 specially erected marquee to further enhance the experience. Click! - a connection has been made.
Recently Fledged PeregrinesThese youngsters were chasing each other around the
Cathedral Close on Monday.
Adult Peregrine at Norwich Cathedral
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 NaturalConnections. It was designed to do precisely what it says on the tin, i.e. connect people with the natural world, or rather reconnect them with something they had forgotten about and 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; birds, mammals, trees, plants and bats. We arranged for experts to host fungi forays, pond dipping sessions, photography workshops and moth trapping 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 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 truly 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 as at 2010 and in the other, a series of professionally printed maps illustrating public walks around the parish. In both cases made freely available to all. The personal legacy from this is having made friends that some 5 years after the project ended still engage enthusiastically with nature and admit to the whole experience having changed their lives. Click!
The recently capped new team member at Cley, Rachael by name, is acutely aware of the need to re-establish links between us humans and nature, especially with regard to young people. There is a significant gap in the age range of people using the facilities at this site; a state echoed I'm sure across the country, with people from teens to thirties noticeably unrepresented. Gone are the days when gaggles of young men and women dossed down in the hides and the beach snug over the weekend whilst undertaking a visit to birding Mecca. In fact nowadays there are seldom any young men and women to be seen on the reserve at all. Maybe they have all become armchair nature lovers, happy to watch images of lions hunting gazelles, or orcas flushing seals off Antarctic ice flows on HD TVs, and have forgotten we have similar excitement at home. The challenge is to encourage them to step outside, tune their ears to the music of birdsong, delight in the vibrant intricacy of a butterfly wing, hold their breath when an unexpected encounter with a deer provides that magic split second eye contact, and to feel: feel the wildness. Springwatch's focus on the trials and tribulations of the stickleback Spineless Si may prove an unexpected catalyst in turning this situation around….as long as people don't only subscribe to him via social media. Click!
SticklebacksThese little fish are abundant in the dykes at Cley and more than one
person has been caught watching them because of the exposure their
breeding exploits received on BBC's Springwatch.
It doesn’t take much; we can all enhance our lives at no cost and little effort. On Wednesday as part of young Rachael’s exciting new regime, we held an impromptu and free of charge taster session, a guided short walk around the reserve to sample all things wild. The target audience for these new ventures is essentially those who are complete nature novices, those who really can’t tell a Harnser from a handsaw or those who are simply curious to find out what this nature thing is all about. I didn’t think there was too much on show, but that was looking through the eyes of someone who sees the reserve on a regular basis. I had to step back and look instead through the eyes of others who perhaps had never participated in this kind of activity before. I’d forgotten that some people have never used a pair of binoculars, I’d forgotten that some had never seen a redshank and I failed to appreciate that to some simply sitting quietly in a bird hide watching shelduck and avocets was a totally new experience. The delight shown by one lady when she saw for herself how to identify a black-tailed godwit in flight spoke volumes. A resounding and so worthwhile Click!
Perhaps for me though 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 (they never have), and seeking out orchids amongst seemingly uniform tangles of grass. There really is a never ending supply of subjects ready to be snapped. Click, click, click, click, click…