There are plenty of ways to get out into nature in West Leeds, from the pockets of ancient woodland in Post Hill, Bramley Fall woods, Black Carr woods, the wildlife along the canal and Rodley Nature Reserve, writes Tamsin Constable.
But do you know what a red admiral butterfly looks like? Could you recognise a sparrowhawk? Can you tell a puffball from a blushing bracket, a goosander from a heron, a vole from a shrew?
Maybe you can. Maybe you can’t. But is that the only way to relate to about nature?
Research shows that people don’t engage with wildlife as much as they did in previous generations. Experts sometimes talk about an ‘extinction of experience’, and they’re worried that people are becoming less interested in protecting nature. As Sir David Attenborough said, “No one will protect what they don’t care about.”
The response is often to offer knowledge-based activities; bat walks, fungi ID sessions, lists of birds, that kind of thing.
According to recent research*, these might get people involved in conservation, but they do not support people’s sense of being connected to nature. Feeling connected to nature promotes ‘eco-friendly’ behaviour; it is also great for health and wellbeing, in all kinds of brilliant and exciting ways that we’re only just beginning properly to understand.
Experts highlight the five main ways in which we can – and do – strengthen nature connection; and there’s not a field guide in sight.
We engage with all our senses – lying on soft grass; listening to sparrows twittering in the hedges; breathing in the scent of rain on hot ground (it’s even got a name: ‘petrichor’); gazing at ripples on water.
This is about connecting through aesthetics: sculpture, music and poetry, for example, or pausing to gaze at a freshly minted rainbow.
We use nature to represent ideas. The first time I hear the swifts whistling high in the sky, I quietly mark my own start of spring.
When I remember the twisty old apple tree in my grandma’s garden, I can still see her right there, peeling potatoes, fussing over the dog or twisting newspaper for the fire. It’s not just any old apple tree that matters to me; it’s that one. I still miss it.
As social animals, we have evolved to be care about others, and that extends to non-human animals (at least it does when it suits us).
It seems to me that environmental educators may be missing a trick.
“There is a need to go beyond activities that simply engage people with nature through knowledge and identification, to pathways that develop a more meaningful and emotional relationship with nature,” says researcher Dr Miles Richardson. “It is clear ‘the arts’ has a great deal to offer in reconnecting people to nature.”
Nature writing workshop
A new nature writing workshop is being held in West Leeds for people who want to explore writing as a way to understand, appreciate and enjoy wildlife (no experience necessary, either in writing or wildlife). And who knows, you might even make friends with the red admiral, the blushing bracket, the goosander, the vole…
Nature Writing at Rodley Nature Reserve
Thursday 7 September 2017, 9am to 1pm.
• Guided walk: behind-the-scenes with a naturalist from Rodley Nature Reserve.
• Guided writing: jog your memory, sharpen your powers of observation and see that pen fly!
• Shape and share: learn how to write about your experiences in a way that others will understand and enjoy.
• Inspiration: opportunity (weather permitting) to write outside.
For more information and to book your place (£25), or to find out more about how nature writing could help your organisation, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Tamsin Constable is a writer, editor and researcher (human relationships with the natural living world).