by Stephen Barnaby

It’s part of the joy 
Identifying or no
Just notice, learn, love


Nouveau Nature Spotter

It quickly became hackneyed to say that the pandemic has prompted us to notice nature more. But, of course, the thing with many so-called clichés is that people keep saying them because they’re true.

We don’t have a garden, only a concrete courtyard shared with four other flats in a position so exposed to wind that every effort we have made to grow potted plants has practically failed before it’s begun.

For all that, though, it’s in a beautiful spot. We always knew that; it’s why we moved to a ridiculously small flat despite my partner, at that time, carrying our second child.

But, yes, lockdown did enable us to enjoy our surroundings all the more.

We stay in Musselburgh, East Lothian. Directly outside our flat is a gorgeous view across the Firth of Forth to Fife, with, to the left, Edinburgh and Arthur’s Seat, and, to the right, the imposing triangle of North Berwick Law.

But what we have particularly relished is the coastal walk to, or towards Prestonpans, the wealth of bird life we encounter along the way and, if we’re particularly lucky, seals basking on the rocks, often posed endearingly like sleek, grey bananas.

Binoculars have enhanced our enjoyment to a degree, though often we feel as though they only magnify our ignorance, our struggle to distinguish between bird species. But it is not only the paucity of our avian knowledge we have been seeking to challenge; another joy has been the discovery of so many wildflower areas. Much effort has gone into rewilding these reclaimed lands and you quickly become aware of the interrelation between this and the proliferation of, for example, butterflies, moths, ground nesting birds and birds of prey.  And although our efforts at identifying both plants and animals are very much in their infancy, the more I notice the variety and delicacy of flowers on our walks, many – thistles, cornflowers, dandelions – traditionally designated ‘weeds’ because they inconvenience us or challenge our notion of ‘beauty,’ the more strongly I feel that growing clamour to stop trying to ‘tame’ nature, control it, shape it to our short term needs and wants.

So, my pledge is to keep noticing, keep learning, keep informing myself. It may not sound much, but I feel that the more my knowledge develops and my appreciation deepens, the clearer it will become how I can actually help.


Read Clare Jennings’s 26 Habitats coast/beach centena and essay.

Read John Simmons’s 26 Habitats coast/beach centena and essay.

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