A few days ago I met an old friend in the New Forest in Hampshire and she like many people I have talked to over the past weeks said she was feeling deeply anxious about the future. It was not just about Corona or Brexit; it some how went much deeper than that.
There is not doubt that 2020 has been a profoundly unsettling year.
Not only have we been hit by the first global pandemic since 1919; but also facing the some of the most dramatic political upheavals world-wide since before the Second World War. Add in to that the unravelling of the world’s ecosystems and the unbelievably rapid acceleration of climate change and you have the perfect storm. The impact on our physical and mental health has been stark. Latest data suggest that over 950,000 children in the UK have some degree of mental health issues; one in five of us are considered obese, one in three are overweight and there are over 3.5 million type two diabetes sufferers (often tied to lifestyle choices) in Britain.
This same friend also noticed another trend.
Many TV presenters, newspaper columnists and radio hosts were sending out ever more depressing stories-from ice caps melting fast to higher Corona death tolls and the rise of the far right in Europe and the US. The result, she said, was the prefect recipe for national depression.
She is right.
Yes we do need to know the facts. We need to know what climate change is doing. We need to know the dangers of an indoors life-style. We need to know that it is not safe to socialise without a mask indoors. We need to know that there are real risks to freedom of expression and democratic rights. But like a rabbit in the car headlights, if that is all we see and respond to we will become an increasingly introverted, frightened and insular nation.
So what can we do?
Britain is an amazing county. We have access to some beautiful coastal scenery, the largest intact area of lowland heathland in north-western Europe, stunning lakes, mountains and rivers. We have some outstanding medieval markets towns and cities. We have some incredible wildlife from red deer and kingfisher through to newly introduced white-tailed eagle on the Isle of Wight. There is much we can be excited about – despite the darkness and struggles we might be sensing and feeling.
So this autumn, as the nights draw in can I encourage you to do three things?
The first is get out there at least once a week and encounter the silence and solace of nature. Refill your tanks; stop, at least for an hour or two to think about wildlife in its fine autumn colours and hues. Forget everything else, just for a little while. The second is to do something practical; plant a tree, grow some spring bulbs, put up a house martin box for next spring. Keep its simple. But every time you are feeling a bit lost-look at what you have done and be pleased. And finally journal your journey through this season. If you see something incredible, whether it’s a spider in its web or a late butterfly; take a photo, write down your thoughts, compose a poem. Use nature as a way of getting right with a broken world and be assured that spring is just around the corner.
Blog written by Andy Lester, A Rocha UK Head of Conservation