Nature Is Good For Us: It’s Time We Were Good For Nature
Blue tits? They’re everywhere, aren’t they? In fact, there are probably several pecking enthusiastically at the bird feeder outside your window right now. But when was the last time you had a good look at one…I mean a REALLY good look?
They’re so common, it’s easy to overlook the fact that they’re utterly exquisite. The blend of colours is astonishing – the vivid yellow breast with just a dab of black down the centre, the blend of different shades of blues and greens on the back, the face like a painted mask with the thin black line drawn through the eye.
Of course, I’d known all this for years, but I REALLY, properly, noticed it when a particularly bold individual grabbed my attention. I was doing a pretty routine early morning walk around some of the more rural roads on the outskirts of Halifax. As I emerged from a small wooded area, a blue tit flew onto a branch a foot or two from my head and launched into a full-throated song, flinging itself from side to side in the weak spring sunshine with unbelievable exuberance. It seemed impossible that so much energy and life could be bursting out of such a tiny body.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is Nature, and every now and then it’s maybe worth pausing for a moment or two in our hectic lives to admire it and lose ourselves in its magnificence.
Blue tits are uniquely beautiful – but so are goldfinches, or (in their own, more subdued, way) dunnocks, or the fox that stops to sniff the air as it trots across a field. I can see all these a few minutes’ walk from my home, along with lots of other birds and animals.
Of course, I get a thrill out of watching rare species in more far-flung places. I’d love to search for white tailed eagles on Mull or spot whales and dolphins off the Cornish coast. But, like most people, I have to balance this against a plethora of other priorities and commitments – work, family, finances, etc. So, most of the time, globetrotting – or even UK-trotting – isn’t an option for most of us.
The good news is that there’s a great alternative. We’re told to build exercise into our daily routines; why not do the same with the wonders of Nature that are all around us in our everyday lives?
An old boss of mine used to talk about the importance of ensuring that TV programmes were liberally sprinkled with “magic moments” for viewers to enjoy. That’s what Nature does. Being on the lookout for wildlife, in however mundane a setting, gives you the potential for an endless series of magic moments…you’re just never sure when the next one will come along.
There’s another thing to consider here. Research is increasingly showing that getting out in the fresh air and connecting with Nature isn’t just good for our physical wellbeing – it’s vital for our mental health as well.
A 2016 study by the University of Derby and the Wildlife Trusts, for example, looked at volunteers who “did something wild,” like feeding the birds or planting flowers for bees, every day for 30 consecutive days. Guess what? It made them a lot healthier AND a lot happier.
Now determined attempts are being made to tap into this natural – and free – feelgood factor. There’s a project in Sheffield, for instance, called Wild At Heart. It’s got National Lottery funding, and it’s supported by the local Wildlife Trust. The idea is to take groups of people who’ve been suffering mental health problems or isolation, get them looking for wildlife in parks and open spaces, and help them enjoy some of the incredible benefits that Nature has to offer.
That’s all fantastic isn’t it? So, we can all sit back smugly in our deckchairs, secure in the knowledge that everything in the garden (and woods, fields and seashores) is lovely, can’t we?
Actually, we can’t. That’s because – while Nature is undeniably very good for us – over recent decades we in the UK have been pretty appalling when it comes to being good for Nature.
Let me give you an example from my own neighbourhood. There’s a field at the end of our road. When we first moved in 25 years ago, the exultant songs of skylarks would drift into our garden in summer. I could climb over the stile and watch lapwings wheeling and screeching overhead. These days, the field is still there, but the skylarks and lapwings are gone.
This isn’t an isolated blip. According to the RSPB, the UK population of skylarks halved during the 1990s and is still declining. It’s a depressingly similar story with lapwings – their numbers dropped by 49 per cent in England and Wales between 1987 and 1998.
The figures for some other familiar species are even more jaw-dropping – tree sparrows down 95 per cent between 1970 and 1999, starlings 71 per cent, song thrushes 56 per cent. The RSPB says we’ve lost 40 million wild birds from the UK in half a century. That’s frightening.
Wring your hands if you like, or blame the farmers, or politicians, or developers. Alternatively, we could all admit that we’ve been guilty of taking Nature for granted and vow to devote more thought and energy to preserving it for the enjoyment and wellbeing of future generations.
Back to blue tits. They’re doing fine, aren’t they? We’ll always be able to see them wherever we go?
I bet our grandparents thought the same as they strolled through fields alive with the songs of skylarks and the cries of lapwings…
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