by Steve Westerman

Wharfedale Naturalists Society

LOOKING forward to spring: A little while ago, I walked up to the top of Ilkley Moor. It was uplifting to see the new season getting underway. During winter months the moor can be very quiet. Of course, red grouse are there year-round, but with the beginnings of spring, diversity was increasing: Toads were at the upper tarn, stonechats near Rocky Valley, and meadow pipits scattered around. Small numbers of curlews were on the higher levels, along with skylarks, and a large flock of golden plovers.

Fast forward and Coronavirus is dominating everyone’s thinking. Understandably, the government advice/requirements on maintaining social distance have become progressively more stringent. So, for much of the day most of us are confined to our homes. With certain provisos, it is still acceptable to go out once-a-day for exercise, presumably because of the beneficial effects on physical and mental wellbeing. Now is perhaps a good time also to consider the positive effects that engaging with nature can have.

Many academic studies have investigated this - with reasonable agreement that there are beneficial outcomes – including reduced stress and improved mood – but much less consensus on how these come about. It may be, for example, that the scale of the natural environment helps us to put our concerns into different perspective. Perhaps, over millennia, we have become ‘hard-wired’ to appreciate certain aesthetics in nature. One theory proposes that nature captures our attention in a way that is different from our usual effortful concentration on day-to-day issues, and this enables us to recharge our mental ‘batteries’. More recently it has been suggested these effects are enhanced if our attention is purposefully directed to nature. Perhaps this is why wildlife photography is enjoyable for many people – it makes nature a particular focus of attention. Of course, nature is full of intriguing stories and puzzles, many ‘hidden worlds’, that may also provide a welcome distraction from worries.

So, what better time to direct our attention to nature? The current restrictions may limit our options but, depending on individual circumstances, we could spend some time each day focusing on countryside vistas, the birds or insects in our garden, or the plants on the windowsill. Of course, for Wharfedale Naturalists Society members it is still possible to use this to generate observations for the recorders!

At the moment things may be difficult or, for some, perhaps worse. However, as was apparent from my walk on the moor, nature shows that after even the worst winter eventually the spring arrives.