The birds and the trees
A weekend of wildlife.
When was the last time you sat and watched?
I don’t mean at a bus stop, or in a queue, or anywhere you found yourself without the convenient mindless distraction of a smartphone. I mean intentionally took the time to pause and wait and really watch.
This weekend is your chance. It’s the return of one of the biggest events in the nature calendar: the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch.
The rules are simple. Sit in your garden, or by the window, or on a balcony, or in a park, and watch birds. Count how many you see in an hour, then report it back to the RSPB.
It’s a beautifully relaxing experience, just looking out the window and noting each passing woodpigeon or starling or long-tailed tit. And it provides incredibly valuable data for conservationists, who can build up a picture of how our garden birds are faring across the country.
When my partner and I did it last year, yelping with excitement when we caught the iridescent flash of the kingfisher, we both agreed our lives would be enriched by doing it more often and just for ourselves. Just to put down Instagram and switch off the TV and do something that really connects us with what’s happening right outside the window.
Take a moment to sign up, and don’t worry if you can’t tell your blackbirds from your blackcaps, because you’ll be sent a handy identification cheat sheet to cross off.
Enjoy your hour. I promise you won’t regret it.
The skies were heavy lead, the ground boggy, and Storm Isha was beginning to slither west, caressing the trees with cold fingers.
We came armed with shovels and forks and hoes and a few dozen saplings to plant. Lime, yew, juniper. It was all part of the grand plan of a friend of mine, doing wonderful work to heal the land he cares for.
What would have taken him a few weeks to do alone took a group of us just one day - clearing the ground for virgin roots, shielding the fragile leaves, and giving new life as much help as we could to survive and thrive.
It’s easy to dismiss planting a handful of trees as a futile effort when faced with the enormity of the global destruction of nature. But when given the opportunity to roll up your sleeves and get stuck in, doing nothing is simply not an option.
Conservationist Ruth Bradshaw recently wrote about her love for conservation volunteering and although I planted for just one day, my aching arms and bramble-nicked legs gave me an overwhelming sensation of happiness. I felt I had achieved something, a feeling I don’t often get after a day at my desk writing emails.
Perhaps there’s something primal about it. Perhaps there’s something in the way I’m kneeling in the mud with my friends, scooping out stones and worms instead of just going to the pub.
A robin flits from branch to branch, head tilted, watching me. A buzzard swoops overhead and the robin vanishes. Do they understand what I’m doing? Do I? I’m planting trees that won’t even mature until I’ve lived my entire lifespan to date again. The robin doesn’t care. All it wants is to find is next meal and not get eaten first. I wonder if it’s selfish to do something just because it makes me feel good.
Then the robin returns. This place could have been a house, or a block of flats, or a car park. But it’s not. My friend and his family have worked hard to make it a place for sparrowhawks and tits and badgers and stoats. A place for life.
The least I can do is plant another tree.