Nature journaling: A Sense of Place

Social media is a wonderful way to connect with kindred spirits, but has its downsides too.  It’s  easy to believe from the many  beautiful photos that everyone else’s life is so inspiring and interesting, compared to our own!

The same thing's true about our encounters with the natural world. I'm often guilty of this! I see people who live in stunning locations, and have incredible wildlife in their neighbourhood, and I sigh. Then I  remind myself - this is just one aspect of someone’s life. I have no idea of the true picture behind the photo. We lead such busy lives today, it’s easy to take what we have for granted, and long instead for something we feel is more stimulating and exciting.

An Authentic Nature Journal

Recently, several people kindly mentioned what a delightful place I live in. They told me that they'd love to  keep a nature journal, but they didn’t live in the ‘right place’ to connect with the natural world.

Those comments made me think about the on-line image I portray. Through my words and pictures I try to help people connect and engage with nature wherever they live, and begin to see that ‘nothing is ordinary’. I hope my sketches, photos and videos create a positive message; but I do want to clarify something; my regular nature patch is certainly not going to win any awards for beauty or get coverage in a posh landscape magazine!

Why? Well, it’s a former landfill dump, right next door to both the constant noise of the M5 motorway, and a major industrial port!

If you saw the entrance, you’d probably ignore it and walk on by, very quickly! It suffers from fly tippers and litter from the motorway; dog owners who don’t clear up their pet's mess, and off road motor cyclists, using the old tarmac road for practice….

It’s really not picture postcard material, but, it is totally authentic, both as a wonderful nature habitat, and a resource for me! 

 A journal spread of what's happening this week on my patch - just a series of quick sketches capturing the feel of approaching autumn....


Connecting with Place

Now, I wonder how many of us dismiss our local playing field, park, or even our garden as ‘not special enough....’? I know that if I hadn’t been a nosey sort, and desperate to find green space when I moved here, I could easily have dismissed my patch as dirty, noisy and not worth a second look.

Thankfully, my need to always 'just see what's around the corner', won out, and I quickly realised I'd found an ideal spot to record the natural world.  I  found, too, that keeping my nature journal encouraged me to find out more about my home patch; and that's helped me form a stronger connection with the landscape.

What an interesting and ancient story this area has, too. Low lying marshland, it's crossed by ancient drainage ditches or rhines (rheens) which were dug out hundreds of years ago, some going back to Roman times. The land's been farmed for many centuries, creating lush pasture for grazing animals, and apple rich cider orchards. The remnants of this busy former life are still visible today,

Nature on My Patch

In the mid twentieth century the farmland was sold and became a landfill tip, where rubbish was dumped  until about 30 years ago. After it's closure, for health and safety reasons, the land was left to it's own devices. Thankfully, nature, as the saying goes, ‘abhors a vacuum’! Today, trees and shrubs cover the old site, and it’s become a magnet for wildlife. Native roe deer find it a prefect home; they can vanish into thin air at the first sound of any invading human feet! (I’ve learnt to be very quiet!)

I spot rabbits, squirrels and foxes regularly, and occasionally smaller mammals pop up on my walks. In the last few years, the rhines have been managed to encourage conserving our delightful water vole, 'Ratty' from The Wind in the Willows. Other, rarer, visitors include otters, using the ditches as water - highways to access the river; and occasionally badgers, who come down from the woods to forage on the floodplain. In summer the rhines are a dragonfly paradise!

There's a wealth of bird life all year round. Moorhen, kingfisher and heron fishing on the waterways, buzzards soaring above; and green woodpeckers calling their distinctive ‘yaffle’ across the grassland. There’s a huge variety of wild plants, including  British native orchids.  Some species were here before, and others have arrived and naturalised.

All this in an area still called ‘The Tip’ by locals!

Sometimes it's fun to do a mixture of sketches. I sketched the plants and butterfly in pencil, but went straight to watercolour for the little landscape of what I call,'The Meadow'.

Nothing is ordinary

My little patch is a good example that you don’t need a stunning, rural location to engage fully with nature. It's about how you choose to see the world.

After all, you might live in a beautiful national park and be too busy to notice the mountains any more! It’s caring and connecting  about your location which count. 

Getting to know your place makes it special and remarkable to you, and you then reflect that image to others.

So - instead of dreaming of a cottage in the woods, or taking a trek through the rainforest, why not look at your local area with new eyes?  Just:

  • slow down
  • notice the details
  • and see the wonder in our everyday life. 

Unexpected treasure may be waiting for you -  just around the corner. I'd love to know what you find!