Tamsin Constable

Watching narwhals watching us – Baffin Island

Narwhal: “12 o’clock, just along the beach, down from the dark overhang: HUGE pod of humans. Quick, everyone, stay together, and keep quiet. They’re pretty stupid, so if we move en masse, we might be able to get quite close. Ah! 2 o’clock, alpha male vocalising loudly. Do you think it’s to do with courtship? Or perhaps it’s male-on-male competition? Oi, you with the long tooth, will you get out of the way, I can’t see anything. (So selfish, these tuskers, with their expensive accessories.) Now if you look closely at the humans, you can see their markings — see those ones there with the grey and white colouring and mottled skin? Those are the really old ones. And see those long black shiny things they’ve got attached to their faces? Those are probably secondary sexual characteristics, females seem to prefer males with really big ones.  Well, they look happy, those humans. But I suppose we don’t know that they are happy. Just because they’re doing all that hugging and high-five-ing and kissing and air-punching, we mustn’t read too much into it, that would be terribly unscientific… Oh, hang on a minute, one of them’s crying. In fact, there are quite a few with tears in their eyes. I think we’re causing them stress. Right guys, time to leave the humans in peace. Everyone here? Back out to sea now, you’ve had your fun. Lead the way, Tusker!”

Then, suddenly, that sound, clear and pure. Narwhal song. I’ve just heard a narwhal song. A sudden gust of wind lifts me clean off my feet. Then again, I think I might just have leapt.

Environmental educators: are you missing a trick?

Fungi walks, plant ID sessions, lists of birds, do NOT support people’s sense of being connected to nature, according to recent research.*

So what does?

Researchers from Derby University highlight the five main pathways – and there’s not a field guide in sight*. They are:

1. Contact (we engage with all our senses). 2. Beauty (this is about connecting through aesthetics). 3. Meaning (nature represents ideas). 4. Emotion. 5. Compassion.

“There is a need to go beyond … knowledge and identification, to pathways that develop a more meaningful and emotional relationship with nature,” says researcher Dr Miles Richardson. “It is clear ‘the arts’ has a great deal to offer in reconnecting people to nature.”

Writing is a fantastic way for people – regardless of skill or ability – to connect with nature.

*Lumber R., Richardson M., Sheffield D. (2017) Beyond Knowing Nature: Contact, emotion, compassion, meaning, and beauty are pathways to nature connection. PLoS ONE 12(5): e0177186