I'm not sure if I have mentioned this before, but I am not really the outdoor type. I know a sparrow from a robin and an oak from a horse chestnut, but really my knowledge of the natural world is extremely limited. Luckily my job isn't about being able to name species, it's about volunteering development, in which I have plenty of experience. Of course there hasn't been a whole lot of volunteering going on over the last 12 months, at least not of the green health variety. Where encouraging people to get involved in green health volunteering was part of my role in the Green Health Partnership, what always underpinned the idea of Our Natural Health Service is every day connection with nature. However, twelve months ago as coronavirus started to rear its head, I didn't know that encouraging others to connect to nature was going to become so important to my role. What's more, I didn't know that I already had a deep connection with nature. A few weeks ago the University of Derby released an online course - Nature Connectedness: For a new connection with nature. I've already worked through the first couple of units and one of the key messages is startling.
Nature connectedness is not about the time spent in nature or about how nice your local park is. Nature connection is about having a relationship with nature. In the course they make the comparison that having a neighbour does not mean that they will be a friend.
If you have been following our social media recently you'll have seen quite a few references to Ireland. I lived by the sea in Dublin for seven years before I moved to Scotland; I was lucky enough to work and live in buildings with sea views, and my commute to the office was literally walking along the seafront. The wide expanse of the horizon, on a sunny day or a stormy one, never failed to lift my spirits. From the office we could watch a storm sweep across the bay from north Dublin towards us. I could text people in another part of the city to warn them the rain was on its way. I've never seen so many complete rainbows, or taken so many photographs from an office window. All these experiences definitely connected me to nature in a way that I don't think I appreciated at the time, but there was something I missed during my years in Dublin. Trees. As I've already said, I don't know that much about nature, so I don't know if it is fundamentally true that there aren't a lot of trees by the sea, but in Dublin I didn't spend much time amongst trees.
I'd moved to Dublin from Wiltshire, a landlocked English county with a forest over 1000 years old, some wonderfully ancient monuments, white horses carved into chalk hillsides, crop circles (and the people who make them), and at certain points of the year, a lot of Druids. Over the years I lived there, I got to know a lot of people for whom harmony, connection, and reverence for the natural world was a foundation. I celebrated solstices and equinoxes at Avebury stone circle, and I suppose because, however separated from it we may become, we are part of nature, nature became part of my way of life. One of the statistics that stood out for me in the Nature Connectedness course is just 6% of people celebrate natural events, such as the longest day. Maybe I just like an excuse to party, but I have been celebrating the 8 festivals in the wheel of the year ever since. Over the last year this has become even more important to me and I found that following a framework, with only 46 days between festivals, has meant there is always something to look forward to, whatever Covid brings! In December we brought you a video for the Winter Solstice and just a few weeks ago another for Imbolc, and we'll be marking each of the festivals throughout 2021.
Finally to the picture above. These are my favourite trees in the world. Four beech trees, sitting high on the henge above the stone circle in Avebury. On a whim, I just googled "trees at Avebury" and these very trees could apparently have been the trees that inspired JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. They are also known as wishing trees - hence the ribbons you can see in the picture. I never knew, I just know that I love to visit them, and seeing all these photos of them on the internet has made me happy - incidentally, it's true, you can connect to nature by looking at pictures!
Do you have a favourite tree? Let us know on social media.