In recent years nature has increasingly been connected with human well-being, particularly mental health. Not having regular access to or a connection with green spaces and wild things is a relatively recent problem that in my grandfathers day did not exist. Having been constantly immersed in the outdoors and nature all my life the idea of feeling good or being happier when amongst trees and birds is a no-brainer to me and quite a normal concept. Recently I have become more conscious of the joy I take in being outside and the way I react to nature and how it affects me in my daily life.
I do love to read serious scientific articles about conservation, wildlife surveys, species declines and the latest angle on nature in this rapidly changing world etc. But it can be easy to temporarily forget the sheer joy and excitement and wonder I experience when out looking at wildlife; musing on natural capital for ages is all very well but I have to balance it with a walk or cycle in the country to remind myself what its all about!
Of course there is all the science behind it; the chemicals released in your brain when sunlight soaks into your skin or the endorphins that float about when you see green trees and all that complicated psychological stuff. But anyone who has ever gazed at the intricate beauty of a dragonfly as it perches in the sun on a nearby reed or has taken in the splendid view from the top of Ditchling beacon knows the good nature does to us without needing a degree.
I have been on walks or cycles in the countryside on five of the last seven days, all trips specifically to see and enjoy wildlife; this is perfectly normal to me but when I think about it I realise that for most people this is more nature exposure than what they get in several months. I just have to get outside at least twice a week to remain sane and to have a good chance of seeing the wildlife I want to see – I need to be constantly connected to it to revitalise my thoughts, my imagination and my body.
I don’t normally notice how I react to wildlife in the moment, but I have come to realise that seeing wild creatures or plants really makes me feel good and get quite excited – which means it is probably beneficial . Just yesterday for instance I was standing on a stream bank in a local nature reserve when a bright blue Kingfisher dashed past me and out of sight in less than two seconds, I just remember having a huge grin and saying ‘Wow’.
Last summer in a rocky cove in south Wales I was poking about in rock pools (one of my favourite things to do on holiday) when I noticed that floating on the surface of the nearby sea was a small blue blob with something sticking out the top of it. I recognised it instantly as the obscure By-the-wind-sailor which is a pelagic animal akin to a Man-o-war jellyfish. Having only seen dead beached ones before I shouted excitedly to my friends and rushed over to it with what in retrospect must have looked like mad, over-the-top, child-like glee.
I know that there are many very good scientific reasons for conserving the wildlife of this planet and many economic reasons too (as well as to make us feel less guilty). But surely I cannot be the only one who gets joy from simply breathing fresh air or hearing blue tits chatter or seeing flocks of starlings swirling in the twilight or feeling the deep fissures in the bark of an ancient oak? Why cannot places be protected and conserved and treasured because of the way that the morning sun twinkles in the drops of dew that dot the spider webs like jewels? Since when did pure and simple joy stop being a good enough reason for us to save wild places?