I began this blog one January day with a pledge to reconnect with nature. Six years ago, during a New Year’s Day walk with my family, I stepped through a doorway or, to be more precise, “a gap in a thicket,” into a world that I hoped would be “a bit wilder and greener than my current one”.
I did not know then that the name January derives from the Latin word for ‘doorway’. The month of January is named after Janus, the Roman god with two heads, one of which looks into the future and the other into the past. He is the god of beginnings and transitions, but also of doorways, gates, passageways and paths…
Six years on, and it often feels like I’m only still at the start of my journey, with my little forays into the great outdoors and my little attempts to tread more lightly on the Earth. My 2021 was dominated by moving house and I wasn’t sure that I had done much for the planet at all. But then I received an email from Jen at Sustainable(ish) (which champions easy, everyday ways of reducing our environmental impact), gently prompting me to make a list of all the positive changes I (or we as a family) had made during 2021, rather than beat myself up over those I haven’t made yet. I did not think there would be very many, but I surprised myself:
- I set up Ecosia as my default search engine. Every time you do a search on Ecosia, they plant trees. So far, 141 million trees have been planted around the world.
- We found new homes for many of our unwanted belongings amongst our old neighbours before we moved house.
- I bought my brother a reusable metal drinks bottle for his birthday to stop him buying single use plastic water bottles and coffee cups.
- We signed up to Oddbox – a service that delivers rescued fresh fruit and veggies to your doorstep, usually in entirely plastic-free packaging, saving millions of litres of water and hundreds of thousands of CO2e emissions in the process.
- We switched brands of dishwasher tablet to Smol, which come in entirely recyclable packaging and use lower levels of added chemicals than other brands, yet are more effective.
- We ditched non-recyclable catfood pouches and signed our cats up to the Republic of Cats, which delivers nutritious catfood in recyclable tins and bags once a month.
- I discovered a brand of eco dental floss called Bambaw that works really well, doesn’t get stuck in my teeth and comes in a refillable metal dispenser.
- We bought our daughter Gwendolyn a second-hand bike for Christmas from a local seller through Facebook Marketplace. (Most other presents were purchased brand new, however)
- I handled the Twitter account for Tottenham Trees for the whole year, introducing our followers to some remarkable local trees, as well as supporting local tree planting initiatives and tree-saving campaigns.
- We switched brands of toilet roll to Feel Good, which is 100 percent recycled and comes in recyclable paper wrapping.
- I kept up the vegan lifestyle I began in 2020 and continue to love it.
- We had countless adventures in official and unofficial countryside.
Right, that’s looking back sorted, now for looking forward. This is a bit trickier. Like most people, I’m not terrific at keeping New Year’s Resolutions. I’m hopeless at making decisions and easily overwhelmed by long to-do lists and excess choice. My wild reawakening did not happen until relatively late in life; there is so much I want to explore, learn and do to help, but so little time. Should I focus on discovering and protecting trees, wildflowers, fungi, birds, badgers or bats? And, when it comes to the new house, which should we tackle first: the central heating, windows, wiring, insulation or a new bathroom?
I sympathise with the First World War poet Edward Thomas who reputedly agonized over every decision in life, including whether or not to enlist, and which path to take during country walks, dwelling on what might have happened had he taken another route. His friend and fellow poet Robert Frost captured this anguish in the poem ‘The Road Not Taken’, which he sent to Thomas two months before he died on the battlefield at Arras.
When it comes to reconnecting with nature, I do have one idea that might help give me a little direction, however. In 2022, I’m going to try to take part in more citizen science surveys. These projects use volunteers, without necessarily any scientific training, to gather large data sets. With at least one campaign for every month of the year; citizen science gives people the opportunity to increase their awareness of a particular topic while making a difference.
A friend once advised me to always put one or two items at the top of a to-do list that I can already tick off. So, I am pleased to say that I have already participated in my first citizen science survey of the year: the Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland’s New Year Plant Hunt. Between 1st and 4th January every year, volunteers spend up to three hours searching for native and naturalised wildflowers in bloom. Their findings help the BSBI build up a clearer picture of how our wildflowers are responding to changes in winter weather patterns.
The word hunt is apt for at this time of year for you really have to scour the landscape for splashes of colour amongst the murk. Nevertheless, during the 2022 New Year Plant Hunt, some keen-eyed botanists recorded an incredible 90 or more flowering plants. On our humble half-hour ‘hunt’ we spotted just three plants in bloom: white dead nettle, lesser celandine and creeping buttercup, but I was immensely proud of those three. After several days of rain, we squelched our way along the Laugherne Brook Nature Trail. My girls were far more interested in playing Pooh sticks and I had to spend most of my attention on ensuring they didn’t get too close to the brook, lose their wellies in a muddy puddle or stumble into a patch of stinging nettles, but catching that perfect solitary creeping buttercup amidst a tangle of brambles was almost as exhilarating as spotting my first orchids. Inevitably, I’ve walked other ways since the #NewYearPlantHunt has finished and noticed far more wildflowers in bloom but I’ve resisted the urge to dwell, as Edward Thomas might have done, on the road not taken…
Next up on my (our) citizen science list for 2022 is the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch. The birdfeeders are up, and the binoculars and bird guide are at the ready.
Featured image credit: Keith Hardy, Unsplash