Treasuring Ireland: A Date With Nature

1st May 2020
News Item

Isolation, social distancing, lockdown. This is an extraordinary time we are living through. Covid-19 is an unprecedented global crisis, and has brought life as we know it to a standstill. It’s scary, stressful, and at times utterly heart-breaking. Yet we at An Taisce know that this is just a foreshadowing of what is to come if we do not address climate breakdown and biodiversity loss. With our figurative plates currently full with coronavirus worries it can be hard to think beyond our immediate life concerns. It is at times like this that communities find themselves taking solace in the very thing that An Taisce is working so hard to protect: our natural world.

This lockdown has radically affected the pace of life. My neighbours’ cars rarely move; my local roads are quiet and decorated with chalk drawings, or used by children playing games. People are out cycling who may not have done so in years, tentatively, yet emboldened by the lack of cars. Communities are out walking and running; families are scooting together. All of us are going outdoors to breathe in the little bit of freedom allowed to us, and to admire the sunset, or look at the flowers. People are being kinder to each other, more considerate and more engaged. We have stopped rushing frantically past each other in the daily schedule that often resembled a relentless game of temporal Tetris. Now there is nowhere to rush to. It is in this difficult time, while we struggle with the lack of freedom to travel or to visit our loved ones, that people are rediscovering the wonders of nature on their very doorstep. In these rearranged lives lived without haste, we are now moving slowly enough to appreciate these wonders.

As a family, we have spent hours trying to learn to recognise birds by their song. Our birdfeeder is a constant delight, and we’re lucky enough to have a whole host of birds just outside our window: great tits, goldfinches, robins, blackbirds, blackcaps, sparrows, starlings, swallows, to name just the few I readily recognise. We are enthralled by our local buzzard, and watch with fascination as the crows mob it, yet it glides on seemingly unperturbed, serene. We’ve seen the swallows return, in that miraculous way that they do every year, after 4 weeks and 10,000km on the wing. It is a feat beyond comprehension, and something that never fails to lift my heart. Even in quarantine our imaginations can stretch far beyond our 2km radius. We’ve built dens out of willow, scattered wildflower seed for pollinators, and planted vegetables for the summer. We’ve been picking wild garlic and nettles, getting stung along the way so that my daughters now recognise dock leaves and how to use them. Nature is proving to be a salve for our anxiety, a classroom for our children, a welcome break from a computer screen, a breath of fresh air in an otherwise cooped up day.

We are facing an incredibly difficult fight for nature. But it is these everyday things that we in An Taisce are fighting for, not just the charismatic and elusive species, or the breathtakingly beautiful habitats. We value these everyday birds, flowers, and insects that we have learned to call our own. We recognise the importance of the natural world on your doorstep, and how it contributes to the bigger picture, a unique part of Ireland’s biodiversity patchwork quilt.

These locked down days are giving us a focused micro-view of Irish biodiversity, a window into the world that was there all along, and an understanding of its natural rhythm. This rhythm continues unperturbed by our human concerns. The neighbourhood buzzard momentarily capturing our imagination with its graceful swoop, the bumble bees clumsily travelling between flowers, the buzzing almost drowned out by the chattering of the starlings, the noise of traffic secondary, infrequent, a welcome absence. These moments of brightness happen every day, but it has taken a seismic shift in the way we live to truly appreciate the wonder and solace that they provide. We belong to this natural world, and we play our part, in the same way that each bird, flower, and insect has their own unique role to play.

Having families and communities establish this personal connection to nature is what will help us to win nature the protection it so needs. As Wendell Berry once said:

Nobody can discover the world for somebody else. Only when we discover it for ourselves does it become common ground and a common bond and we cease to be alone.

So take the time to discover your own small patch of nature, and to appreciate the lucky happenstance of our benevolent environment. It is this that An Taisce is fighting to protect on global, national and local scales.

Some days it feels like all is lost for our environment, and that our fight is futile. Yet we can see that the work An Taisce is doing is making a difference. We are changing the narrative, and in advocating for nature our collective voice is starting to be heard. The change is incremental, sometimes barely perceptible, and the urgency is huge. Yet in this crisis we have proven that when we, as a nation, recognise what urgently needs to be done, and when it comes to protecting our communities, incredible change and action is possible. With enough public support we could do what is necessary to protect our environment, and a seismic shift could happen.

The post covid-19 world will be a very different one, both positive and negative. When the modern, capitalist wheels start turning again let us remember what is truly important to us as a species: community, nature, freedom, health, and food security. Now is the time, during our slower days, to remember what we used to value before full speed life took over, before efficiency closed our eyes to the wonder of the natural world. In these stressful times it has become apparent how important nature is for our well-being, bringing moments of joy into every single day. In protecting this we are protecting the very essence of what it means to be human - our joy, our soul, our solace. Nature needs a voice, and this is why the work we do is so very important. Let us raise our collective voice above the prevailing noise; it is time to be heard; it is time to reclaim the things that bring us simple joy in a world of cluttered excess. Politics and capitalism can wait, I have a date with nature.

by Elaine McGoff, Natural Environment Officer, An Taisce

An Taisce is a membership-based, environmental charity. To join An Taisce as a member please click here.