At the end of February going into the beginning of March, many parts of the UK were experiencing a big freeze as “The Beast from the East” paid a visit. Whilst most of the country was gripped by the snow and ice, here in mid-Sussex we barely had a dusting of snow despite the temperatures getting to -9 at times. This cold snap however did encourage a few new visitors to our little Sussex garden which helped to lift my disappointment at the lack of snow.
Some people get excited about wetland birds, some birds of prey, some those rare species that only arrive for brief visits to the UK, but to me our woodland and garden species are some of the most beautiful and fascinating. Perhaps it is because of the thrill of being able to watch them in the garden, or the fact that they become accustomed to having me around and allow me to get close to observe them, whatever the reason, getting to watch them go about their daily business is something that I will never tire of.
Now that the cold snap has passed (although another possible blast is forecast for this coming weekend) many of those new visitors have chosen to stay with us. My most notable and exciting is the family of 6 Long-tailed tits that have made our garden feeders their local cafe and have been visiting on a daily basis.
The Long-tailed tit, Aegithalos caudatus, is one of my favourite UK bird species, there is just something about these endearing little creatures. Sometimes nicknamed the flying teaspoon because of their tiny bodies and extra long tail, they also have many old folk names such as “Hedge Mumruffin”, “Jack-in-a-bottle” and “Long-tailed Chittering”.
Another garden ‘tick’ is the Great Spotted Woodpecker, Dendrocopos major. We have had one male visiting us for a long time now but this week I had the pleasure of watching two on the feeders at one time. It seems that we now also have a female who is using our feeders too which is great news. The adult male Great Spotted Woodpecker has a bright red patch on the nape behind the head, whereas the female has no red on her head at all. Juvenile’s have a red forehead or cap which will change to black as they moult their adult plumage in the autumn.
With all the extra bird food that has been around over the last couple of weeks in the bid to keep the Long-tailed tits in residence, we have also attracted the attentions of a couple of voles, one Field Vole and one Bank Vole. Unfortunately I have been unable to catch them properly with the camera so far but I have a few tricks up my sleeve for getting photos of them which I will be sharing on my next blog post as I try out some technology!
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Have you ever watched a sunset and felt an overwhelming emotion almost bursting to be free? A sudden and involuntary feeling that you cannot quite fully understand? Possibly the stirring of spring bringing you hope, the little shoots and sprouts breaking through the ground reminding you that the world is alive.
I have been thinking of these feelings for a while now and contemplating their meaning, not only to me, but to us as human beings. I know that being outdoors and experiencing nature first hand is something that brings me a great deal of happiness and that it is good for me, both physically and mentally. It has led me to research the subject deeper to find the science behind it. I have also been reading Michael McCarthy’s “The Moth Snowstorm – Nature and Joy” which discusses using these intense feelings as new way of looking at nature and as a defense for our natural world.
McCarthy discusses the strategies used to date to try and protect and defend our planet, including attributing monetary worth to ‘ecosystem services’ to justify protecting it. Unfortunately most of these ideas have failed to provide the protection needed and the world is threatened as never before. Therefore he proposes that it is time for a different approach, along with sustainable development and ecosystem services, that we should offer up its joy, its deep meaning to us.
He describes the feelings he has experienced when witnessing bird song, the first blossom of the year , the sight of a Brimstone butterfly and of mad March Hares. All of which bring an intense feeling of Joy. He writes about the startling feeling of emotion, of delight, and of solace with a passion that I have felt for many years, but had not known how to describe it. It seems very fitting to use the word Joy, for that is what it is.
Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves – John Muir
We live in a world focused on technology, disconnected from nature. It fills our everyday lives, at work and at home, from contacting loved ones and friends on social media, to making business contacts and progressing our careers. The average millennial picks up their phone a staggering 150 times a day, with children aged five to sixteen spending an average of six and a half hours a day in front of a screen.
Modern society has separated people from their natural world, the benefits of nature are unseen, undervalued and in decline. Unfortunately our disconnection to nature is considered to be one of the major problems facing nature conservation today.
The average person will spend around two hours checking social media every day, we spend forty hours a week working and 92% of our time is spent indoors. It isn’t just adults either, in 1915 children regularly roamed alone 6 miles from their homes. Today the average roaming range is just 300 yards and this is accompanied by adults. A case study on the disconnection with nature of children by the Wildlife Trusts in 2015 discovered that fewer than 1 in 10 children play in wild places, compared to a generation ago. It also showed that fewer than 60% have never seen a Peacock butterfly, 50% have never found frogspawn and 37% have never seen a Hedgehog. Children no longer have the opportunity to play freely in nature. This is something that has deeply troubled me, that some children have not discovered the joy that is felt when seeing our wildlife up close. The feeling I had as a young girl sitting on my back door step watching hedgehogs snuffling around our garden, something that is a rare sight these days.
Have you left the house to go for a walk feeling tired and stressed, only to return feeling invigorated and relaxed?
It is now widely known and scientifically proven that spending time outside in nature is good for your mental health and your well-being, something that few nature lovers would argue with. A study conducted during The Wildlife Trusts ’30 days of wild’ challenge has shown that there was a scientifically significant increase in people’s health, happiness and their connection to nature, not just throughout the 30 days but sustained for several months after the challenge had been completed.
In Japan the practice of ‘Shinrin yoku’ aka ‘forest bathing’ is supported by the Japanese government. In Finland, public health officials now recommend that citizens get five hours a month, minimum, in the woods in order to stave off depression. Spending time outdoors nurtures our “natural neurons” and sparks our natural creativity. It is time that here in Great Britain we start to recognise the importance of time in nature.
We are in fact hardwired to love and to need nature.
Erich Fromm, a psychoanalyst, coined the term ‘biophilia’ and described it as “the passionate love of life and of all that is alive”. Edward. O. Wilson, an American biologist, also used the term to describe “the tendency of humans to focus on and to affiliate with nature and other lifeforms”. McCarthy describes these feelings as being “lodged deep in our tissues”, before living in towns and cities, we were farmers for five hundred generations, before that hunter gatherers with the natural world a part of us and us a part of it, “the legacy cannot be done away with”.
Interacting with and spending time in nature, experiencing and appreciating it can help reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. It can even help people fully recover from illness and all of us can benefit from feeling happier and healthier as a result of spending more time in nature. Research has already shown that exposure to nature can lower your blood pressure, reduce respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses, improve vitality and mood, and restore attention capacity and mental fatigue. It could even extend your life by the equivalent of five years. Feeling a part of nature has been shown to significantly correlate to feelings of life satisfaction, meaningfulness, mindfulness and happiness.
And it’s a reciprocal relationship because as important as nature has been shown for our health and happiness, our interactions with the natural world are just as important for protecting nature and the environment.
“The natural world is not separate from us, it is part of us. It is as much a part of us as our capacity for language; we are bonded to it still, however hard it may be to perceive the union in the tumult of modern urban life. Yet the union can be found, the union of ourselves and nature, in the joy which nature can spark and fire in us” – Michael McCarthy
So this weekend, why not reconnect with nature? Take a walk in your local woodland, nature reserve or take the time to sit and enjoy the birds in your garden, take a closer look at the sleeping trees you may just find that spring is stirring again. Experience the joy of nature for yourself.
You may have noticed that things at the Lucy in the Wild online world have been a little quiet over the last months, but in reality it has been a different story.
2017 saw the beginning of my Lucy in the Wild adventure. I took a brief period off work and used that time to set up the blog and website, something that I had been talking about for well over a year. Things got off to a good start but gradually the daily grind reduced my time and, to a certain extent, my drive and inspiration too.
I spent the beginning of last year contemplating life in general, suffering with ill health, exhaustion and an overall sense that things were not as I had hoped they would be. In May everything came to a head and I realised that there was so much more that I wanted to do with my time and my passion for wildlife and the great outdoors.
I found myself at a junction; to leave my job of nearly four and a half years, expand my knowledge and set out on my own path; or to stay in the same place, feeling disillusioned with the situation I found myself in, remaining static, as I had done for quite some time.
I remember speaking to many loved ones and close friends during that time but one in particular stood out to me “Grasp the nettle by the stem”.
So, with a deep breath, that’s what I did. By the beginning of June I had left my career as a zoo keeper, leaving behind the animals I had worked closely with for years and yes, just like grasping the nettle by the stem, it stung like hell. It also opened up a whole new world to me as my friend had said it would.
I have spent the last seven months exploring my options and my local area of Sussex. I have been lucky enough to find freelance work with a number of local wildlife organisations, some of which may lead to some exciting projects, so keep your eyes peeled for further posts!
I am now volunteering with Sussex Wildlife Trust helping with their Forest Schools programme, and with the RSPB at Pulborough Brooks helping conduct wildlife surveys, both of which have increased my knowledge incredibly. I have spent time outside in nature, being still and noticing the little things, taking time to walk and to take photos. My extra time has also allowed me to undertake courses on particular areas that interest me or to help fill some gaps in my knowledge such as a “Grasses, Sedges and Rushes” course through the Field Studies Council at Preston Montford.
One of the things that has impacted me most however, is the realisation of something that deep down I already knew. That not only do I enjoy being involved with nature because I am interested and passionate about it, but also that being outdoors is a great benefit to my physical and mental well-being. A great number of studies have been conducted on the effect of nature on peoples well-being, and the results do not really come as a surprise. One of the studies states that “being in nature, specifically in forests, reduces the cortisol levels in our brain (stress hormone) and can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression”. So there is scientific proof for that feeling you get when you are walking through the woods or in a forest, the feeling of relaxation, of curiousness and calm.
Nature is integral to us as a species, without it we simply could not survive, and not just because of food, water and the air we breathe. In a world where we seem to spend more time inside, looking at computer screens, in cities and away from nature, it is increasingly obvious that it is something that we need and crave to aid our overall physical and mental health. This is something that I have been exploring and will be the focus of my next blog post which will be coming soon.
So I encourage you to get outside, enjoy your local woods or nature reserve, and most of all to do something great… Grab the nettle by the stem.
Lastly, I wanted to take this chance to thank everyone for their wise words and advice over this past year. I have been utterly blown away by the support from my family, my friends and especially my partner, Sam.
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As Winter slowly slips into slumber, it seems that Spring is rushing into action. Within just a few days, the once-bare winter trees are bursting with buds, shoots, new leaves and blossom. Blink, and you may miss it.
Last summer I attended a Wildlife Trusts’ course on moth identification and trapping. I found the course fascinating and was amazed to find out there are over 2,500 individual moth species in the UK alone! They range from the impressive Death’s-head Hawkmoth, Acherontia atropos, with a typical wingspan of up to 13cm, making it the largest here in the UK. Through to the smallest, Enteucha acetosae, with a tiny wingspan of just 3mm, one of the worlds smallest moth species. Some species of moth are just as beautiful as a butterfly, like this Elephant Hawkmoth, Deilephila elpenor, which is a bright pink and green, looking almost exotic.
The RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch has again flown by for another year. It is the world’s largest garden wildlife survey, and last year saw more than 519,000 people across the UK taking part recording an amazing 8,262,662 birds! This year was set to be another big success and many people have been hoping to get some unusual records with migrants like Waxwings, Bombycilla garrulus, making their way to the UK because of the colder weather and our bumper crops of berries.