I’ve been reminiscing recently about my early encounters with nature. I was a very keen amateur naturalist as a child, spending long heady summer days in the garden hunting for bugs to observe. and making discoveries. Myself and my sister created many wildlife clubs always just the two of us, usually a couple of days before we had to go back to school at the end of the summer holidays. We had ID badges and a written mission statement that usually said we were going to protect the local frogs, newts and hedgehogs from poachers and fine people who dropped litter, in short we were going to save the world. This was spurred on by TV programmes like The Really Wild Show and Blue Peter.
[Myself & My Sister at the neighbours pond.]
Looking back now I have few key memories, collecting frogs and newts to see how many were in the neighbours pond, usually stirring it up into a brown stinking mess in the process. But he was a kind patient man who would prefer we made a bit of mess and got to explore. Taking photos of flowers using my Dads homemade macro lens on his SLR, a proper camera. Finding a Lizard in the allotments at the back of the house and spotting a Hummingbird Hawk Moth on a holiday in Cornwall.
One of the most profound memories is taking photos of a fox in our local park, I would have been primary school age. We had gone to the park and I had my little compact camera to look for animals to take photos of. Probably ducks but as we were walking along the lake we spotted a fox. Armed with knowledge from a wildlife book I had read, even at that young age I knew to keep low so my head was below the horizon from the foxes point of view. I left my mum watching on from the side of the lake, walked ahead onto the grass and then lay on my stomach to take photos of the fox. The fox was there for sometime and came quite close to me, I was shaking with excitement but I managed to keep my cool and get the photos. This encounter kept me buzzing for sometime and I still feel the excitement looking back on it even now.
[Unfortunately not the fox! I’ll keep rampaging through the boxes of photos]
I’ve heard David Attenborough say on more than one occasion that he’s never known a child who wasn’t curious about the natural world, or words to that affect. I believe this is mostly true, it is after all our natural environment. I don’t think I’ve ever lost my curiosity often dragging my teenage children to go and look in rock pools, so I don’t look weird as an adult on my own! Well I’ve now given up on not looking weird, life’s too short and there’s too much to discover.
It’s always been there and I’ve gently nurtured it through a love of nature documentaries, the odd sighting, occasional opportunity to explore and dreams of far off lands and exotic creatures. However recently I’ve had a few encounters that bought back that excitement of that early fox encounter and it’s Bushcraft that has enabled me to be in a position to experience it again.
Once you have a Bushcraft skill set and you’re comfortable being in your environment it gives you time to pay more attention and see wildlife that you would almost certainly miss on a walk through the woods otherwise. On a recent site check I went for an early morning wander, I saw sign of deer, badger and fox. This is not unusual, as it is an area of my skill set that I have been developing, but for some reason I felt a deep gratitude for being able to picture these animals where they had been that night, a richness the tracking skill set had bought to my walk.
We’ve been working on a species list, this is for our own interest but also to add value for the others who are involved in the woodland, the woodland community. We’ve listened to bats, used moth traps, used camera traps, trailed deer and observed and listened to all sorts of birds, some of which remain unidentified despite consulting experts. Ben has been working on his small mammal surveying skills and I’ve taken great pleasure in developing my wildlife photography.
I have a bag with my kit in, it contains a tarp, camera, flask, stove, ferro rod, first aid kit, Camera and telephoto lens, Camera trap and note book. For me it’s never been about the gear, but that bag and the adventure it represents fills me with joy! I think back to my younger self, looking at a kit layout in a wildlife book and I know my younger self would approve.
There’s adventure out there for those that want to rediscover their youthful interest in the natural world. There’s animals, birds, insects and their behaviours, that you’ve not seen or paid attention to, you’ll find them in woodland, a garden, park or even just an alleyway or roof top. You can pay attention for your own curiosity or for science, in todays connected world it’s even easier to become a citizen scientist by taking part in national surveys and sending in your observations via web pages and apps.
I hope it fills you with joy and you rediscover something of your childhood, in a world where we’re loosing so much from our natural world, it’s an even more important time to be paying attention.