How to Get In Touch with Nature
With busy lives and jobs which keep us indoors for much of the day it can be hard for us to know how to get in touch with nature. Perhaps you are thinking about it because you've read that nature is an excellent antidote to stress or because you just feel in your heart that having a closer link to nature will be rewarding. I can assure you it will be worthwhile and enjoyable and you won't have to travel far or spend lots of money to do it. Why not pick one of the following activities to do this weekend. It will help you get in touch with nature and enhance your life.
You might feel the best places for getting in touch with nature are exotic destinations which you can't really afford to visit. Of course these can provide you with marvelous experiences, but the cost is off putting and your expectations are going to be correspondingly high which can lead to disappointment Luckily there is another option - the easiest place to start looking for nature is actually on your doorstep. You just need to look for smaller slightly less glamorous creatures and for native wildflowers and trees. Don't despair if you live in a town or city either. There will be parks you can visit and brownfield sites which are reverting to nature; cemeteries and churchyards are often wildlife oases too. Many towns have built up around canals or rivers which can be another good place for you to visit.
Sounds of Nature
Activity 1 - Close Your Eyes and Listen
Woodland is an ideal place to do this activity because there is usually bird life chirruping away in the tree canopy. Listen out for different types of call which may be different species of bird, or the same species calling for a different purpose - lots of birds have a stacatto 'ticking' alarm call as well as calls advertising their prowess as mate for example. You will also become aware of rustling leaves which may be the wind or may be small rodents scrabbling about in the undergrowth or squirrels in the trees.
Whilst your eyes are closed you might want to take note of the scents too, there could be the mushroomy scent of decaying wood and leaves, a waft of wild garlic or the rank aroma of fox droppings!
Activity 2 - Keep a Diary of Seasonal or Cyclical Events - become a phenologist.
Watching the changing seasons is one of the joys of living in a temperate climate, but even in a tropical environment there will be cyclical events such as fruiting trees and birds nesting which you can observe and record.
You could choose to keep a series of records in your diary. Popular ones include the arrival and departure dates for the first and last swallows, the date of the first oak tree buds bursting into leaf and the first bluebells in flower. This activity is both interesting and potentially useful and is known as phenology. You may decide to contribute your data to a national project, such as the one run in the UK by the Woodland Trust which is looking into how plants and animals are adapting to climate change.
Even if you don't want to make a formal record of what you see it is worth selecting a short walk of perhaps a mile and aiming to walk it once a week. You can take a mental or photographic note of things changing as the seasons progress and you will discover that even the most familiar places can spring surprises on you with weird and wonderful nature.
How Will You Get in Touch with Nature this Weekend?
Activity 3 - Look for minibeasts
Minibeasts is just another name for creepy crawleys, invertebrates or bugs. There is an infinite variety of them. You could just pick a tiny subsection of invertebrates and be endlessly entertained. Take hoverflies for example; there are around 270 species in the UK (Buglife - the invertebrate conservation trust). This summer I started to notice the different types of hoverfly that visited my small front garden. There were bee like ones, lime green ones, humbug striped ones, tiny ones. A fascinating array in fact, so I began to photograph them and try and identify some of the different species. Most UK hoverflies don't have a common name - only a Latin one, so the English names I've given them in the photographs below are my own invention.
Minibeasts live even in the smallest and least wild looking green space and can be found year round, although more species are active in the warmer months. So for this activity pop out into your garden or to the nearest churchyard, park or riverside and look for invertebrates, see what sorts of insects are landing on the flowers, for more variety turn over logs and stones to see what is living underneath (replace them where you found them once you've had a nosy). You are likely to find species from several of the invertebrate groups such as worms, slugs, centipedes, millipedes, woodlice You might want to take some photographs so you can have a go at identifying the different species once you get home.
Hoverfly Species in my GardenClick thumbnail to view full-size
Activity 4 - Go Foraging
Finding wild food is a satisfying way to get in touch with nature. It forces you to appreciate the changing seasons, makes you vigilant as you look out for edible foods on your walks and because it takes more effort than going to the shops and buying what you want there is extra enjoyment in eating what you've found.
Depending on the season you might find tasty leaves like wild garlic, edible fungi such as the shaggy inkcap, fruit such as bilberries or nuts such as hazelnuts. You might start looking at weeds in a different light when you discover that plants like nettles, chickweed, Jack by the hedge (garlic mustard) and dandelion leaves are a source of free food.
Activity 5 - Go for a Walk in the Rain
Embrace weather changes and go out whatever the weather. It's easy to go out when the sun is shining and it's warm, but you will miss a lot of opportunities to get in touch with nature if you wait for the weather to be nice. This activity is very easy. Get yourself appropriately dressed for the weather and go out for a walk regardless. If it's raining enjoy the sounds of the rain on the foliage and look out for animals sheltering from the rain. Watch the clouds and the interplay of light, you might even see a rainbow. If it's cold you might find that animals are actually easier to approach than normal because they may be struggling to find enough food and can't afford to be as wary.
Activity 6 - Visit a Local Nature Reserve
There are nature reserves in most countries. In the UK we are lucky to have a network of small local nature reserves most of which are free to visit. They are usually quite well supplied with information boards to give you an idea of what to look for at different times of year. So for this activity do a bit of internet research to find the nature reserve nearest to you and then go and visit. You might be amazed at what you find.
One of my nature highlights this year was visiting Salthill Quarry nature reserve which, sited in the middle of an industrial estate, doesn't sound very promising. But it had the widest variety of wildflowers and then I can remember seeing anywhere and these were accompanied by a host of butterflies, bees and other insects. Free to visit and completely captivating!