The UK lockdown has given us time to reflect on what really matters.
In a recent YouGov survey, we asked over 2,000 adults in the UK about their interaction, observation, and connection with nature. We wanted to find out if the current UK lockdown was having an effect on the way we watch nature and whether this time could help develop powers of observation. You can read more here.
report spending more time observing nature outside since lockdown started.
report they are commenting or discussing what they saw with a child or partner more than they normally would.
of survey respondents miss being able to be near nature during the lockdown.
of adults reported that they felt their powers of observation had increased during the lockdown.
of those asked felt a sense of calm when observing nature.
of participants missed being able to go to the sea during lockdown.
With many of us spending more time to really watch nature we have the possibility of developing our observation skills, to notice nature, and truly watch well. You can find the full set of data here.
From a scientific perspective, watching well is vital for data collection. However, we all suffer from “inattentional blindness”, a failure to notice something obvious because we are too preoccupied with another task or object. It’s not a conscious process - our senses are bombarded with so much information that our minds cannot process it all. To cope with this sensory overload we develop filters which help the brain deal with all the stimuli and information that bombards it. Our changing culture, values, expectations, and beliefs shape our filters and influence how and what we notice, and how we react. Filters help focus our attention on a single task or part of the environment and ignore everything else.
If we apply this to noticing nature and wildlife, we need to be able to just be and absorb what we see. Try focusing on just one area and see what happens there. Is there a part of the garden or space that you haven’t explored before? Look there. What about lying flat on the grass and seeing what you can spot at ground level?
Give your senses a chance to work one at a time. What can you hear? Can you really tune into that? What about what you can smell? What does each of the flowers in your nature space smell like?
“Learn to be patient! Wildlife isn't like a screen with an on and off button! There's no set schedule for when things will turn up and just because nothing turns up one day, it doesn't mean there will be nothing the next day.”
“Connecting with nature is nothing more than slowing down your movements and pace of life. Start with finding a nice spot and just sitting down. Being is the hardest part, we are hard programmed to do something, to achieve, to be productive and so to stop moving and just be in the moment goes against all this. But try it. Sit down back against a tree, and watch - use your eyes, listen, smell, touch and feel your way around the immediate space you find yourself in.
“I like to go to specific places throughout the year. I get a sense then of getting to know it, by seeing it at different times of the day, month or season. I tend to meditate in nature too, so I can attune to the place in a different way to the usual senses of looking and observing it, listening or smelling, or labelling the things I see. With our eyes closed, in moments of deep stillness, we can sometimes get to know a place in an extraordinarily profound way.”
“Even though I often go along the same tracks in my local woodland, I walk it in different directions and at different times of day, then you see plants and fungi differently. Don’t forget to look up and down, and all around.”
There is a plethora of information available online to help hone your observation skills. We recommend starting with this blog from Psychology Today and this paper about Walk and Talk, a method of therapy that makes a conversation feel less threatening for a client; or these resources on Mindfulness from the University of Oxford and MYRIAD Project.
Our research and tips are part of Wild Days, the weekly programme of free activities curated by Earthwatch outdoor learning experts and scientists to connect families with nature and environmental education during lockdown.