The last three months have been very unusual times and have given us an opportunity to reassess so many of the values that we have in life. Now with restrictions gradually being lifted it is possible to look back at some of the positives and negatives of lockdown.
For me, lockdown spring 2020 will be forever be remembered as having a backdrop of blue skies, beautiful spring weather and lots of local nature. One of the pleasures of lockdown for me has been to immerse myself into the nature of my local village as a way tempering the anxiety and frustration of the situation. And I don’t seem to have been the only one. Social media has been full of people sharing the nature that they have been seeing and the impact that these wildlife experiences in difficult times.
In my local village we have had unprecedented numbers of people taking their daily exercise, alone and as families, drawn to the attractive countryside. The village inhabitants have been noticing nature around the village, the village Whatsapp chat has been full of what they have seen and the village Facebook page now has popular weekly nature notes. And with people staying at home more, they have focused more attention on their gardens and the wildlife in them. Nestboxes, bee hotels, ponds have had more interest in the last few months than for years. As well as so many people seeming to be drawn, almost unconsciously, to the outdoors and the countryside, it has been very interesting to see how many people have been making the connection between exercise, being out doors, nature and mental health.
At Blawhorn, many Blackridge people have discovered the reserve through exploring the paths leading out of the village and up to the reserve on their daily exercise and at all of the Stirling NNRs volunteers, neighbours and locals have stepped into the breach when SNH staff weren’t allowed on-site, keeping an eye on the reserves, picking up litter and reporting problems.
With restrictions of travel, parts of our Stirling NNRs will have received fewer people on the site and with less disturbance from visitors and their dogs, the wildlife may have had a more successful breeding season. But it is a double edged sword, the payback is the places closer to communities will have had more visitors and hence more disturbance. Certainly the meadows and woodlands around my own village have never seen so many people walking through them and the effect of the disturbance and dog poo will have had an impact on the local birds and flowers especially.
In other parts of Scotland this lack of people out and walking the landscape has resulted in an increase of wildlife crime and especially persecution of birds of prey. The RSPB have had a dramatic rise in the reporting of illegally killed raptors as some people who are still working in the countryside have taken advantage of the lack of watching eyes.
And though gardens have become a focus of attention on nature they have also had to bear the brunt of people have time on their hands and a desire to “improve” and tidy their gardens. So I have been seeing plenty of destructive gardening work being done at a sensitive time when birds are breeding and insects are looking for flowers.
This drive to get outside in the nice weather and meant that some places have been mobbed by crowds with the disappointing result of mountains of rubbish left afterwards. Amazing when you think about because it isn’t like people don’t know that littering is bad. Vandalism has also seemed to be on the increase, with fixtures and fittings on the receiving end of anti social behavior, like the viewing tower at Flanders. And some have not been able to wait for the council waste recycling centre to open and I have seen fly tipping at Blawhorn and my home village.
So where does lockdown leave us ? Well it has certainly shown us how incredibly important nature is to almost everyone’s lives, even those that only like it subliminally . But it is clear that there are people who either don’t know how to behave when out in nature, or don’t realise the impact of their actions on it. For many people it is just a case of adding knowledge to enthusiasm but for others a link with nature needs to be built. On the Stirling NNRs people get the chance to visit previously inaccessible places like Flanders and Blawhorn. We have been giving opportunities to groups who might not normally connect with nature, young people through the nature club at Blawhorn and at Flanders the Dawn Chorus project with teenagers of Wallace High. And via this blog as well. But there is much to be done, especially in the making connections and enabling people from groups who don’t normally get opportunities to visit nature reserves. We will keep you up to date with what projects are happening but are always happy to hear suggestions from you.
When visiting a nature reserve 100 people can do so and have minimal impact on the wildlife and the habitats but 1 person behaving the wrong way can have a devastating effect. The focus on nature in lockdown has given us an opportunity to add to the 100 and educate the one.