The second theme of our online learning programme is #NatureAroundMe.
So why focus on the nature around us? Our Science Engagement Officer, Laura, tells us why the nature around her area is so special to her, and why a little appreciation for our local wildlife can go a long way.
"I have lived near my local nature reserve for almost all my life and it’s a spot very close to my heart. To start with, my patch doesn’t seem like all that much: a few fields and a small scrap of woodland eked out at the edge of Edinburgh. But the more you get to know it, the more you find to love about it.
To get there I have to walk down a short bit of road, and as I’m doing this I’m inevitably still thinking about what’s on at work next week, have I forgotten a friend’s birthday or what am I going to have for my tea? But as soon as I arrive there, I can feel my stressy bunched-up shoulders start to drop, my breathing is deeper, and my head isn’t racing. Instead of, ‘should I make pasta or noodles for tea?’, it’s ‘is that birdcall a blackbird or a robin?’. The experience is totally absorbing – the whole time I am there, I am really there, present in the moment. Whether that moment is searching for kingfishers at the old canal, smelling the waft of wild garlic on the breeze, or feeling the warmth of the sun on my face telling me that Spring is round the corner – I am totally wrapped up in nature being all around me. It is a peaceful place, where I feel at peace in myself.
And I’m not alone in the benefit that I feel from nature – many scientific studies now support the idea that nature can boost our mental health. Studies show that time spent in nature can reduce our stress hormones and improve our mood. Even study participants who had only looked at a picture of nature or listened to natural sounds were found to feel some of these effects. This growing body of evidence has recently led GPs in Scotland to give out nature prescriptions for the first time, to boost health by getting people to enjoy the outdoors and wildlife around them.
It’s not only humans that can benefit from us experiencing our local nature more, wildlife can benefit too. When you start to get to know your local patch, you start to feel a sense of connection to it. You get to know its rhythms – the best spots for frogspawn in the Spring, the trees to look up to when you hear that distinctive sound of a woodpecker ringing through the woodland, and that when you hear a rustle, it’s almost always a blackbird (who are surprisingly territorial little birds!). When you become so connected to your own wee space, you feel more protective over it too. A society more connected to nature and more protective of local wildlife is exactly what will be needed if we are to deal with the current biodiversity loss crisis. Nature has certainly been there for me, but we need to be there for nature too – a sentiment that David Attenborough supported in an interview with the Big Issue this week, “In times of crisis, the natural world is a source of both joy and solace. The natural world produces the comfort that can come from nothing else. And we are part of the natural world. If we damage the natural world, we damage ourselves.”
Appreciating nature and spotting birds has certainly got me through some tricky times. It’s taught me to appreciate the small things and that there can be a whole absorbing world right there on your doorstep. In this particularly tricky time, this sort of mindful activity can be really beneficial. So my challenge to you is for you to spot what nature is around you. Wherever you live and whatever outdoor space you have access to, be that what you can see out your window, or in your garden, take a second look at it. We sometimes take for granted what is right in front of us, but you don’t need to travel miles to have amazing nature experiences. There is a whole ecosystem under every stone in your garden, or rooftop out your window, we just need to remember to slow down and appreciate it."
Thank you to Laura for this insight into nature in her local area - now it's your turn! When you are out and about walking in your local area, what can you spot? Be sure to explore responsibly, and share you pictures with us on our Facebook, Instagram or Twitter pages!