noun: a feeling of great enthusiasm and eagerness.
“Excuse me… are you alright?!”. I jumped at the interruption by a polite passer-by. Totally lost in my zone, I hadn’t heard them approaching. Their concern was understandable – there I was, laying face-down and spread eagled amongst the logs and leaflitter on the woodland floor. I hadn’t tripped or stumbled; my position was completely deliberate.
Down there, in my moss-covered little world, I lay eye-to-eye with my first wood anemone of spring. A subtle white wildflower; wood anemones are fanciers of ancient woodlands with a weird, musky scent. They’re gorgeous. In my excitement, I’d flung myself to the ground to get a good look at this beauty – assuming the natural position any nature nerd is familiar with.
“Yep, fine thanks, just looking at wildflowers!”. I’m not sure what the stranger made of my reply, but they ambled on their way and left me to my geeky sprawl. Yet again lost in a simple, ordinary moment, I’d let excitement take over and I now had muddy knees and elbows.
I’m a general naturalist, an all-round nerd, and a science communicator. I spend as much of my free time as possible outdoors – looking for wild stuff and observing it. For me, nerding around in nature is all about excitement. Possibility, incredulity, drama and the unexpected all mixed together in a potion of wild thrills. It doesn’t have to be pristine habitat; you can root for nature on a lamppost, a train station platform or a supermarket car park. It has an exquisite ability to tuck away in the tiniest of nooks and crannies.
As an adult, I started my nature journey at almost zero; I didn’t know the identity of most of the wild things around me. Starting from scratch, I began learning about our British wildlife from a place of pure nosiness. If you’re heading outside, I recommend taking curiosity with you; it’s a wonderful tool for discovering weird and enchanting things!
So, I thought I’d tell you a little bit about my nature-noseying technique. This is my modus operandi; it’s how I go about my wanders in nature, looking for living things that just fill me to the brim with excitement.
To find some awesome wildlife, you’ve got to seriously get your sneak on. Us humans can be rather clumsy. Where we wander, we tend to clatter, natter, thud and generally make a bit of a racket. Nature doesn’t like a racket.
The best thing to do, is to find yourself a quiet patch of natural space. My favourite type of spot is a messy meadow; all tufts and wildflowers and bits of bare ground. Then simply sit, and wait. Maybe even lie on your belly, so you can eyeball the vegetation from a critter’s point of view. After around five or ten minutes of waiting, the memory of that noisy human has faded in the minds of wildlife. Critter by critter, life starts to emerge from the shadows. You’ll be amazed what ambles past, in front of you, or even on you, when you just sit still and watch.
There’s a way I like to search for wildlife. It’s sort of a mix between scanning back and forth, and letting your eyes go soft and unfocussed. Almost trance-like, it seems to help things POP! Creatures start to appear in your field of vision. Perhaps they were there all along; perhaps they’re sneaking out from their hiding places.
A meadow can yield a miniature savannah scene. Weevils, butterflies, shield bugs and a bounty of beetles of all shapes and sizes. Some are the herbivores, interacting with plants and scoffing their greenery and pollen. Others are the predators. Spiders prowling from webbed lairs, and dragonflies hawking in the skies above. By simply stopping, and gazing, an entire natural history documentary can unfold right under your nose.
Some folk’s trash is another’s treasure
One of the best things to do when on the search for wildlife is follow the MESS. I don’t mean literal rubbish, like the litter that fills our rivers and verges. I mean the best sort of mess; nature’s mayhem. Wildlife has no time for tidiness. Straight lines, harsh edges and bare landscapes aren’t generally conducive to high biodiversity. Think of a huge field: a few hundred metres across, planted with a monoculture crop and bordered by a single bedraggled hedge or a fence. If you were an animal in that field, where would you hide? Where would you find shelter, food, or a place to raise young? Nature needs complexity, variety and texture in order to thrive. So whether it’s birds, mammals, insects or wildflowers; look out for the messy bits. Areas growing high with ‘weeds’, meadows full of botanical variety, blurry woodland edges and of course SCRUB! Wonderful scrub! Every time I see a patch of messy habitat, I feel a pulse of excitement. Mess means treasures are going to be found. Spend some time in nature’s mess, and wild things will surround you.
A couple of years ago, I made a promise to myself that I’d squeeze a little bit of wild into each day. Even spying a starling out of a window, or an exquisite house spider in the bath – the opportunities for excitement come in many places.
Starting from zero, learning about wildlife seemed so daunting. But as that familiarity increases, you learn to read what’s around you. The quality of habitat, what might possibly be there to see, and what could be there if nature was in a better state. You also begin to notice how unequal access to nature is across society; lower income families and people of colour are much less likely to have nearby nature-rich space. You realise that we need to ask for more; more wild spaces, more wildlife and more opportunity to engage with it.
To me, nature is excitement. It’s endless joy and delight and fascination. But there’s also the sense of loss, and knowledge of what could be. I hope by communicating about it, I can inspire people to fight for the wilder future we all need!