Why do we love nature? Termed biophilia by scientists, this often starts in childhood and can be influenced by many things. Family members who are also interested in nature play a major part in a child’s love for nature, as do strong experiences in early life. All of these factors contribute to how much love we have for our natural world and how connected we feel to it. One thing is for sure, the more opportunities we have to connect with wild places, the better – countless studies demonstrate the benefits that spending time in even small green spaces such as gardens can have and the pivotal role that places such as parks, city farms and zoos can have in instilling these feelings.
For me, a serious biophiliac, I can pinpoint two key factors which led to my love for nature, which has persisted now for almost half a century. The first, my maternal grandparents. A farm worker and a precision engineer from Surrey and Sussex, perhaps they were an unlikely match, but together they were a fantastic, powerful force. To me they were superheroes. Both shared a love for nature and both had an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of wildlife and nature in general. Growing up, my sister, brother and I holidayed with our grandparents and parents in Blair Atholl, an idyllic village in central Perthshire with a fairytale white castle. Here we spent most holidays and most weekends, walking through forests and fields, learning the names of the native trees and wildflowers that we came across – having grown up on farmsteads, my grandmother knew them all. Cowslips and bluebells, wood anemone and birds foot trefoil – all were carefully photographed or drawn – my grandmother forbade us to pick any. These skills in art served me well later in life in my biologist training. As a young naturalist I was fascinated by everything and spent every waking hour in the summer months catching and examining grasshoppers and in the evenings watching and listening to bats as they circled overhead at breakneck speed, catching invisible insects. If only I could still hear them.
The second factor can be pinpointed to one, incredible encounter one early morning in Blair Atholl. Knowing my insatiable appetite for nature, my grandfather used to arrange it so that before dawn we could creep out on ‘an expedition’. Taking care not to wake my younger sister and brother, and torches in hand, we would make our clumsy way to the edge of the woodland, climb or fall over the wire fence and go in search of adventure. To my eight year old self this was incredibly exciting. In reality, we rarely saw anything, but one morning, just as the sun was starting to cast a glow in the eastern sky, we turned along an overgrown path that we didn’t normally take. It was a very cold November morning and a damp heavy mist hung in the air, enveloping everything it touched. Then, it appeared. A silhouetted shape against the lighter gaps between the trees. A full grown stag. It seemed enormous. I held my breath. The stag turned and for a brief moment our eyes met and we both stood motionless, me in shock at what I was seeing. He then turned and disappeared into the mist and the trees as quickly as he had appeared.
Decades later this memory remains and for me, represents a point in time that I can define as being absolutely instrumental to who I am and what I want to contribute to this world in the second half of my life. I’ve done the glamour bit, the international travel, the big business deals and dinners and the swanky hotels. It was fun at the time, but that’s not who I am. Protecting our natural places and the wildlife which call them home is my destiny. It has taken me years to get to this place but it is what drives my passion. It is the foundation and the inspiration for what is now Bright Green Nature.
Please, share your experiences – let me know if there is a time or place that has inspired you to care for nature!