Nature provides the greatest entertainment through spectacles and phenomena. It’s an invitation to get outside that shouldn’t be missed.
Several studies over recent years have positively indicated that ‘connecting’ with nature does people good. Whilst it’s also accepted that it’s difﬁcult to express this in speciﬁcs or numbers, it is clear that people simply feel better. Nature has been shown to correlate with life satisfaction, vitality, happiness, mindfulness and to lower anxiety.
Although observing or immersing in nature doesn’t provide cures it seems futile to argue that it doesn’t help with aspects of mental health, which of course, will have further beneﬁts to overall physical health.
There are a number of different ways to observe nature; not all of them obvious…
Birdwatching has been described as ‘Nature’s Yoga’ since it’s relaxing and exciting/energising all at the same time.
Birds are common in all parts of the UK and it’s an easy activity to scale up as you become more interested. Birdwatching has a reputation of becoming increasingly interesting with experience so don’t be at all surprised when a squint through the kitchen window sees you progress to moving into the garden and out into the countryside armed with binoculars and ﬁeld guide. Birds are charming and intriguing creatures.
Not all of us share the same abilities. People with visual impairments might well have sharpened hearing and will gain just as much pleasure from hearing different bird calls and song. The advantage is that they can ‘hear’ the birds even when they’re out of sight. There are plenty of common garden birds with distinctive calls and songs such as blackbirds, thrushes and robins.
Trees are fascinating. Clearly, they are a magniﬁcent spectacle for sighted people but even for people without sight they present incredible textures for hands to enjoy. Bark and other textures such as moss or lichens can vary from species to species and of course, they also have different sorts of leaves.
Don’t forget to listen out for the creaking or rustling in the breeze whilst breathing in the smells too.
In the mud
Mud has a bad reputation, obviously, but there may be more to it than you think. Again it can have a texture and temperature all of its own but may also be home to small invertebrates or worms (especially in coastal areas). These are pretty easy and harmless to catch and examine, bringing into focus another miniature world.
There are few sounds more satisfying, incidentally, than the plop of a pebble landing in mud.
Many of our best-loved creatures are shy or nocturnal, meaning that they are rarely sighted in broad daylight. Fortunately, they’re kind enough to leave clues. Footprints in soft ground or after a snowfall are fun to decipher and some people will even do the same with spraint (dung). Creatures like barn owls and otters produce solid spraint or pellets which can be teased apart (especially when dry) to reveal details of the creatures diet. You’ll often ﬁnd tiny bones or feathers in owl pellets, for example.
NB: Of course, bacteria and other microbes live in spraint so take a bottle of anti-septic gel with you and thoroughly wash your hands with it.
Most wildlife is nervous in the presence of humans. This makes getting close to creatures quite difﬁcult. Observation hides or the pathways to them aren’t always accessible although there is a general movement to upgrade sites of scientiﬁc interest. If there’s nowhere suitable locally, you could use an adapted tent or find a good place to park your car – which will actually hide your human shape.
Don’t wear fragrance, approach with the wind blowing in your face and move slowly and quietly. Patience is a skill that takes practice just like any other – but comes with rewards.
It’s only a matter of time before a love of nature lures you outdoors. The good news is that this will inevitably lift your mood. Not only will you be breathing in fresh air but you’ll also be breathing more deeply which is a good workout for your respiratory system. It also means that more oxygen will be transported to cells, including those in the brain which will promote alertness.
It’s also worth noting that a half hour in the sunshine can give the body most of a whole day’s requirement of vitamin D which is important to physical health in a variety of ways, and also helps to alleviate anxiety and depression.
Where to go…
Here are some of our favourite accessible places to enjoy nature…
WWT London Wetland Centre
Once you’re inside the reserve at Barnes, the only clue that you’re anywhere near London is the amount of air trafﬁc overhead. Fortunately, the wildlife seems to be happy to ignore it.
The site is very thoughtfully laid out and is naturally ﬂat; a fact that people with mobility issues or wheelchair users can exploit, thanks also to the wide, solid gravel paths that connect the different parts of the site – and from which you can observe different birds and other wildlife.
If you aren’t too lucky with your spotting or you don’t have patience on your side, there are also enclosures where you can get a good look at captive birds – and the ever-playful otters.
Note also that the facilities are fully accessible, not just in the reception building but also in that the hides are level access and the observatory even has access via a lift and height adjustable telescopes.
The RSPB run many sites around the country equipped for people to get close up views of local bird species and other wildlife. The RSPB website has a very handy site ﬁnder and then takes visitors through to the sites’ speciﬁc web pages where you’ll ﬁnd information on access and facilities. (It’s clear that many of the sites have had access audits and provide a very good standard of disability friendly facilities indeed, including those relating to toileting, mobility and parking.)
The RSPB are committed to doing even more in the future and have publicly stated their ambition to double their landholding by 2030.
The Forestry Commission is a non-ministerial government department responsible for forestry in England and Scotland.
They lead the development and promotion of sustainable forest management in Scotland and England. This doesn’t mean that they don’t want people to access and enjoy their forests, but more so that they ﬁnd ways for forests to remain viable and a part of the community.
Again each Forestry Commission site can be located through the main website and has easy to understand information regarding access and facilities as well as further information on local events and initiatives.
The UK has an incredibly wide variety of wildlife. You can ‘spot’ it using different senses.
Great spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopos major)
A startlingly handsome bird with stunning black and white plumage topped off in males and young birds with red head markings. Often heard before it is spotted through its distinctive ‘knocking’ display and loud call. Spotters often see it ﬂ ash by and identify it by its ‘bouncing’ ﬂight pattern.
Red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris)
Otherwise known as the Eurasian red squirrel this small mammal has seen its numbers decrease dramatically over recent years, due in part to the ferocity of its cousin, the grey squirrel.
Reds are now conﬁned to particular parts of the UK, notably in pine forests in the north of England and the Scottish Highlands – as well as isolated areas such as Brownsea Island, in Poole Harbour, Dorset.
You may hear scratching or nibbling noises during summer months as they scuttle around and they may accidentally drop husks from treetops. Fortunately being bright orangey-red and not so shy, it’s pretty easy to spot them when you’re in the right place.
Red fox (Vulpes vulpes)
Although usually nocturnal, the red fox can be seen increasingly in urban areas even during daylight hours.
It’s deﬁnitely the case that more of them are becoming brazen and unafraid. They are all-but silent – except at night when you can hear them screech and bark. It’s also possible for people with a good sense of smell to pick up their musky scent on the air, indicating their presence.
Common pipistrelle bat (Pipistrellus pipistrellus)
Bats are only really visible to the naked eye at dusk and even so they are incredibly quick on the wing and with a random looking ﬂight pattern – as they chase down airborne insects, also meaning that you’re most likely to encounter them on warm summer evenings. People with decent hearing will detect their distinctive chirp – which is actually their remarkable sonar guidance system at work.
Common pipistrelle bats are prevalent in all parts of the UK.
Slow worm (Anguis fragilis)
Not a worm, not a snake and not so slow either, the slow worm is a lizard without legs. They can grow up to 40cm’s in length but can be identiﬁed as ‘not a snake’ since they have eyelids to blink with and can shed (or snap off) their tale when caught.
They are safe to humans and can be handled, even though they wriggle.
Absent from the Scottish Isles and Northern Ireland but prevalent in other parts in the UK.
• Natural phenomena can be observed almost anywhere.
• ‘Seeing’ isn’t the only way to ‘spot’ things.
• Getting outside is good for you and satisfying. Action points
• Think about access requirements.
• Dress for the weather.
• Whether you see something or not, enjoy the experience