Michael with barn owl chicks to be ringed
All too often, when I express my passion for wildlife and the natural world, for birds, butterflies, flora and fauna, I am filled with the sense that I am somehow being ‘indulged’ by those that are listening –that I am an eccentric with a funny little hobby.
Possibly, I am eccentric and as the natural world, and everything in it, is my life’s great passion, then it could indeed be described as my ‘hobby’. However, it’s not so much the use of this reductive term, or the indulgent smiles I receive whenever I discuss it, that I find so frustrating. It is the implication that if this is my hobby, then it isn’t theirs. This is not a subject they care to give too much thought to, and not really something about which they wish to learn.
I might politely point out a few things that perhaps would, or maybe should, interest them to encourage a deeper understanding or keener regard. Inside, however, I’m screaming, wailing in disbelief and frustration, and weeping secret tears of anguish and despair. Have we become so detached from the natural world that we see it as ‘other’? Have we really reduced it to a ‘special interest’ or ‘hobby’ only for some? Have we forgotten that we are part of the natural world and that its health and survival is inextricably entwined with that of our own? Do we not realise that our very existence depends on it?
Now, I’m not suggesting that we all become tree-hugging, lentil-weaving, dreadlock-sporting eco-warriors. But I passionately believe that each and every one of us has an obligation to this glorious planet and that we must all contribute to its health, no matter how small that contribution might be. After all it provides us with everything we need to live a fulfilled and happy life. Doesn’t it make perfect sense to look after it?
So, from sowing a few pollinator plants and putting up a bird box, to creating a wildlife pond and planting a meadow, every little thing we can do to nurture, sustain and revitalise, plays its part in the survival of this wonderful world.
Those of us lucky enough to have a pergola in the garden, have the perfect opportunity to create habitats that will nourish and perpetuate an enormous range of species. With a little thought and not much effort we can provide pollen and nectar for bees and other pollinating insects; we can provide birds with food, roosting areas and nesting sites; we can create habitats for insects and invertebrates by piling up a few logs in an undisturbed corner; or we can develop a pond –surely the centre stage of any garden - that will encourage amphibians, dragonflies, whirligig beetles and somewhere for birds to bathe in and bats to hunt over on a summer’s evening. Nor must we forget our soil with its incredible, unimaginable abundance of life, which in turn provides the very life-force of the garden in a perpetual cycle of growth and decay.
In his book, ‘What Has Nature Ever Done For Us?’, Tony Juniper writes ‘
‘it is estimated that ten grammes (that’s about a tablespoonful) of healthy soil from an arable landscape is home to more bacteria than there are people on Earth. And these bacteria might be comprised of representatives from some 20,000 species.’
So, any gardener has a lot to take care of and they should congratulate themselves, for they have their very own nature reserve. With just a little care the garden becomes a vitally important space for nature. Sometimes it might feel like a tiny addition but the sum total of all our gardens makes for a very big space indeed, and as a result we do make a huge difference.
There is a maxim in nature conservation, ‘Create the habitat and the wildlife will follow’. In doing so we can make something that is not only great for wildlife, but also healthy and healing for ourselves. Surely there are fewer pastimes that are more calming and stress-relieving than sitting in the quiet of a garden observing birds feeding, bees gathering pollen and butterflies harvesting nectar. So when you’re planning that new hedge, or that tree, if you ask yourself how the choices you make can best serve the environment you will be richly rewarded in more ways than you can imagine. Of course there is much to be done locally, countrywide and globally with caring for our natural world, but where better to make a personal start than in your own garden? So be good to yourselves, start a new ‘hobby’. And if you do hug a few trees or craft a pair of lentil underpants on the way, then that’s just fantastic!
Michael Groves ©