Monday, 23 March 2015


This is a long overdue blog post about a fascinating talk I went to as part of the 'Norfolk Festival of Nature' on 27th February. The talk was by naturalists Patrick Barkham and Matthew Oates and was on the subject of 'Spirit of Place'. This really got me thinking about the reasons behind why I visit the places I do, and why I feel the way I do when I visit them.

Matthew Oates started the talk, and introduced us to a number of Welsh terms, not all of which have direct translations into English; two which stood out the most to me were 'Hiraeth' and 'Cynefin'. Hiraeth roughly translates to mean something along the lines of longing or homesickness and Cynefin as habitat or heartland. Both are far more complicated than this though, and together they explain why I long to be out of doors at times and why, when I'm almost any wild place, I feel some sense of belonging. Sometimes this can be in places which are familiar to me or sometimes when I first visit a place, which is a phenomena I can't really explain.

I feel this way when we visit our local patch, just down the road from our flat and just off the A140; for such a 'city' location, we frequently spot kingfishers traversing the River Wensum, are still overjoyed at our chance sighting of a pair of otters, and have used it as a location to learn the calls of different birds. I miss it when we don't get the chance to do 'our walk' at least weekly, and if I go for more than two weeks without at least a walk here, or a trip to another wild place within reach of our local patch (or not), then I really do feel it. It is hard to explain this feeling of 'longing', but when I return to the outdoors, I feel more... complete? This is surely something that all wildlife enthusiasts know?

Patrick Barkham spoke of places which have this impact and we, as an audience, had the chance to discuss our ideas with both speakers, about our feelings and concerns for the natural world. Something I did not voice, but certainly something which concerns me, is the lack of people my age or younger who attended this talk. There must have only been a handful of people, out of almost a full auditorium, who were below the age of 40. Why are our younger people not concerned or interested in the natural world? Is it because, as many say, they are glued to televisions and computer games? Or is it because at key points in their lives, we have failed to make them inspired by the world around them?

As a teacher, I try to play my part in inspiring pupils about the natural world. My bird box cam had all year groups (age 11 - 18) enthralled, as did watching caterpillars morph into butterflies, then releasing them. My STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) Club are embarking upon BBC Wildlife Magazine's 'Digital Schools' Project', even if I do only have three attendees.

I don't have the answers, but I hope that I make at least some difference to the number of young people vaguely aware of and interested in nature.

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