Monday, June 27

The weather is lousy, but it shouldn’t stop us from enjoying our local wildlife in this enclosure | Winter


reDo you remember the first confinement? We were scared, but for most of us it was easier than this bleak winter close. We had not endured a year of the coronavirus crisis: fears for vulnerable family members, economic shocks, mental health problems and ruined livelihoods. It was also the sunniest spring in history. Traffic stopped, birds sang, and many people reported positive benefits for their physical and mental well-being by connecting with nature.

I was hoping that we all remember those physical and mental health benefits of spending time in green and wild places. But I’m afraid it’s not happening.

It’s mostly cold, humid, and dreary outdoors, and many of us dismiss winter as a time of death and decay, absence, hibernation, and senescence until spring can begin again.

That couldn’t be further from the truth. Nature cannot stop. Winter is not our nature’s holiday season. It’s not just about taking a big nap or going to sunnier climates.

Every day, I look at the grass beyond my window and see 150 wood pigeons. Fat gray birds clawing their way across the lawn, taunting acorns. It is cheerful. When I returned from my walk this morning, there was a huge explosion of applause as all these pigeons took to the sky with their wings flapping. Wow. That is a true winter experience.

At night, the carapos call. They are in all cities, wherever there are mature trees. I have listened to them outside my house. Every night they go crazy. It’s that big territorial boost from early spring. So everyone gets mad at each other. It is very entertaining.

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Beneath my feet, heart-shaped celandine leaves make their way. The green leaves of the bluebells are also seen. The snowdrops are only a few days away.

The winter weather can be appalling, but it shouldn’t stop us from enjoying the wildlife in our local patch at this confinement. Rainwear is cheap these days. We can manage it.

A winter morning in the woods is when you bring out the best in all your senses. Because there are no leaves on the trees, you can hear all the sounds: I heard a male fox go “wuh-wuh-wuh” this morning and a deer bark. Every noise is so much brighter, bigger and alive. Without trees covered in leaves, you can also see birds that you would never see in winter.

The other day, it was foggy and humid, definitely winter, and I went for a walk in the socially estranged woods with sound recorder Gary Moore to make a short film for Winterwatch. Most of the time I am alone in nature, but I found that I also enjoyed the company: sharing sights, sounds and this special winter experience.

We know that walking through a green space will improve our mental health, but our walk reminded me that in order to get the most out of it, you have to choose something in that space, join in, and really connect with it. You can search for seeds. Or look at the shapes of the leaves. Or feel the textures of the bark of the trees. Or focus on the scents of winter. I always think of winter decay, those rotten leaves, like nature’s fruitcake. It is a complex and intoxicating aroma of an indulgent richness. I love that smell.

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On this hike, we stop and listen to the song of the birds. Really listened. And by the end of our hike, we had recorded around 30 species of birds: robins, kings, big tits, woodpeckers. We identified some songs that we did not know. For a couple of old fools, this is great news. We have so much more to learn!

We may be locked into the same old local patch, but there is always something new to discover. While walking through the woods recently, I noticed that many of the acorns on the ground have turned scarlet this winter. I am 59 years old, I have lived in an oak forest for many years and have never noticed that happen before. What’s going on? Nature is an inexhaustible well for exciting a curious mind.

So don’t forget how it made you feel to be outside during the first lockdown. I know it’s dark and sometimes depressing, but get yourself a cheap raincoat, put on some wellies, go out and take care of yourself. We’ll get through it.

• New Winterwatch series begins on BBC Two on Tuesday

• Chris Packham is a naturalist, nature photographer and author, and one of the hosts of BBC Two’s Springwatch.


www.theguardian.com

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