I consume information like a sponge; soaking up more and more until I can no longer take it. I take the good and the bad information about nature, but it’s the bad that’s easiest to find and that lingers the longest, generating feelings of unease. I did a masters degree, where about 75% of the taught material was how much damage we’re doing to the planet (let me tell you, 9am lectures about air pollution are not fun ones), and just carried on consuming that material at that kind of rate in the following years.
Last year’s COP26 passed by without me paying it much attention. I was so cynical that I could predict what was going to happen; politicians would act like it was being taken seriously but then turn around a few weeks later and make decisions that flew in the face of that. To be fair, I wasn’t wrong; in the midst of the energy crisis and horrendous costs of living in the UK, the government are focusing on trying to extract more fossil fuels rather than helping to insulate homes and focusing on renewables.
When I’m feeling overwhelmed by the reality of the damage we’re causing and the issues humanity is already facing as a result of climate change, I’m reminded of something a counsellor said to me a couple of years ago. I’d spoken to her because I was doom-scrolling big time and it was impacting my mental health. She recommended I seek a more positive space on social media by following more positive accounts and putting more positive posts out there myself. At the time, I half agreed with her. Yes, there was a lot of good going on but focusing on the positive felt like looking away. I felt I needed to see all of the difficult stuff to understand the reality of the problems we’re facing. I still struggle with that now on all kinds of justice related issues. It took me well over a year to fully come around to what she was saying.
How can I help if I feel so pessimistic and cynical that the weight of all of it makes me not want to get out of bed, or try? I resolved to start learning more about British nature. Though I was interested in nature, I knew surprisingly little about nature in the country I’ve spent my entire life. It started with birds, and it’s spreading to plants, insects, fungi, and pretty much anything I can photograph and try to identify.
I’m writing this in my garden. It’s a beautiful spring day here on the north east coast of Scotland and my garden is alive. Blue tits, robins, and finches are flitting around the trees and to-and-from the hanging water dish. The flower bed, which was a bare patch of the sorriest looking soil I’ve ever seen when we first moved in, is humming with all kinds of bees, wasps, flies, and ants are everywhere. And I know that if I were to dig down into the soil, I could easily find a worm. None of that was here when we first moved here. When we found our first worm in the flower bed, we were so excited. Now, our soil is full of worm friends.
All of this is here now partly because because we started to learn about what we could do to welcome nature back into garden. Now this garden is a huge source of inspiration and joy for us. There are species here I don’t even know about – in addition to writing, I’m also currently trying to take a decent photo of a cuckoo bee that I first saw yesterday, so I can ID it. I still have days where I feel cynical and angry and the lack of action from our politicians, but I find hope when I look out the window and see the change that I’ve helped to make and know there are countless others doing the same. Or when I look online and see people doing conservation work in their local area.
We need to understand the reality we’re facing if we want to influence policy and force change, but we can’t only soak up the hard things. Balance the scary stuff with some joy. Start small. Pick a species, or a group of species, and learn about them and go see them. Find out if there’s something you can do in your garden, or local area, to help them. Find things that make you feel more connected to nature. Fill yourself up with awe that any of this exists. Get involved with local conservation groups if you’re able to.
Mostly importantly, share that joy and interest with other people and encourage them to get involved, too. I recently read Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer (beautiful book, highly recommend it) and the message that really stuck with me was that as humans we have the ability to have gratitude for nature and give back to nature. One of the simplest ways we can do that is by sharing our love for and teaching others about nature.
If you want to learn more about nature in the UK, these are some of my favourite places for information:
RSPB: great, easy to understand species info and a nifty species identifier tool.
The Wildlife Trust: again, fantastic, easy to understand information, and they share plenty of advice for making your garden more wildlife friendly.
The Woodland Trust; easy to understand tree info.
And if you want your social media to be less doom-scrolling and more “wow, look at that”, here are some of my favourite UK-based nature accounts:
The Wildlife Man on Twitter
Carl Bovis Nature on Twitter
Lucy Lapwing on Instagram
Eilidh Cameron on Instagram
Josh ecology on Instagram