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Introduction to the Blog

Mini Wild Mol has been created by me, Molly Boyd, with the intent to enlighten the world about subjects I enjoy. The main subject of this blog will be wildlife (hence the “wild” in the blog name). This will include species profiles and also topics of interest. I hope that I can educate people, and spark passion about wildlife and the natural world. I may also include topics on minimalism (hence the “mini” in the title. In no way is this an indication of my rather small stature). When I say wildlife, I mean mostly African wildlife, because this is my most travelled continent, and I have gained a fairly large knowledge base on this area of the world. I will also look into other species in other areas of the world that hopefully one day I will get to see for myself.   

Why have I chosen these topics and what qualifies me to talk about them you might be thinking? 

Well the wildlife topic is my most qualified subject. In July 2019, I graduated from the University of South Wales with a 2:1 in a BSc (Hons) Natural History degree. This has given me a very broad range of knowledge on the way the wild world works. As well as this, I have been fortunate enough to travel to Africa 8 times since 2014. Over these trips I have gained vast knowledge about the wildlife that resides in this awe-inspiring place, gained from field guides and a lot of wildlife books. I hope to be able to travel to other wild areas of the world in the future such as Asia and The Amazon Rainforest. My two favourite animals are leopards and hornbills (this includes all species of hornbill). 

Minimalism came into my life around January 2017. I am still very much new to the idea of living with less and consuming less. In no way would I consider myself an expert, but things that I have heard and read have resonated with me. Now that I am trying to live my life this way, I feel other people may benefit from the things I’ve learned and the mistakes that I may make along the way so that the same doesn’t happen to them. At least no one needs to feel bad for making “mistakes” with minimalism if they see that someone online does too. I have found that travelling with less makes the experience a whole lot less stressful though, so I will try and provide some tips for this especially.

My plan with this blog is to post once a week at first to get a feel for the work and to be able to create some quality content for my readers. As minimalism has shown me, it’s quality not quantity that counts and I hope that it shows through the progress of this blog. 

I also have some experience in photography, mostly wildlife and pets, and so I’m hoping to pretty this page up as some old photos are prettied up ready for sharing. 

An additional section to my wildlife blog

As well as producing blog posts on wildlife topics and animal fact files, I am going to have a section dedicated to nature book reviews. These books will include all forms of Natural History writing, whether a story-like book or field guide. If the books are in my growing collection, I will post about them in this section. The first book review will be out around the 9th of July, as this is the official release date from the publishing company for the book I am writing about. 

CITES

What does CITES stand for? 

Black Rhino, protected under CITES Appendix I, other than populations in South Africa and eSwatini, which are then under Appendix II, meaning you still can’t trade specimens of this animal.

CITES stands for: the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

So what is CITES about exactly? 

CITES is an agreement between governments, which has aims to ensure that any trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not have an impact on that species survival. 

The background of CITES

CITES was first formed in the 1960s. It seems obvious now as to why something like this might be needed now with the plight of so many animals such as tigers, elephants, rhino and pangolin species all being threatened; however, back when it was set up, the discussions to regulate the trade of wildlife for conservation purposes was relatively new. 

The international wildlife trade (mostly illegal), is estimated to be worth billions of dollars on an annual basis, and it includes the trade of wild animal and plant specimens. The specimens can be found in a variety of different states to be sold in, ranging from live animals and plants, to many different products that have been derived from them. These products include food products, exotic leather goods, wooden musical instruments, timber, tourist curios and medicines. We can all surely think of animals that receive high levels of exploitation, along with high levels of habitat destruction, which is ultimately depleting their numbers hugely. There are many species that can be traded legally because they are not endangered, however, the agreement being in existence helps to ensure the sustainability of the trade in those species to safeguard them for the future. 

International cooperation to safeguard certain species is needed due to the trade in wild animals and plants crossing borders between countries, the cooperation of the countries helps to lower the risk of over-exploitation of certain species. CITES today offers varying degrees of protection to more than 37,000 species of animals and plants, no matter whether they are traded as live specimens, fur coats or dried herbs. 

CITES Appendices 

Giraffes are protected under CITES Appendix II

The CITES Appendices are lists of species that are assigned to one of the 3 appendices, depending on the level or types of protection that species needs from over-exploitation.

Appendix I species are the most endangered species among the CITES-listed animals and plants. These species are threatened with extinction and this CITES appendix prohibits the trade of any specimens of these species, except for where the purpose of trade is not commercial, such as for scientific research. The import and export of specimens in these exceptional cases can be authorized with the granting of both an import and export permit (or a re-export certificate). 

Appendix II listed species are not necessarily threated with extinction right now, but may become threatened with it if the trade is not closely controlled. This appendix also has “look-alike species” included, for example, species with specimens in trade that look remarkably like those species listed for conservation reasons. Although an import permit is not necessary for species listed under appendix II, they will need a granting of an export permit or re-export certificate to be granted for international trade of specimens. However, import permits maybe required in some countries that have tighter restrictions than CITES requires. Permits or certificates should only be granted if the authorities involved are satisfied that a number of conditions are met, and above all, the any trade of that specimen will not be detrimental to the survival of the species in the wild. 

Appendix III, the last CITES list category, is a list of species formed at the request of a Party that already regulates trade in the species and that needs the cooperation of other countries to prevent unsustainable or illegal exploitation. International trade of Appendix III species is allowed, only on the presentation of appropriate permits or certificates.

A Pangolin, listed as a CITES Appendix I species.

CITES Parties (Parties of the Convention) 

CITES is an international agreement to which States and regional economic integration organizations adhere voluntarily. States which have agreed to be bound to the Convention (‘joined’ CITES) are known as Parties. CITES is legally binding on the Parties involved – meaning they have to implement the convention – however, it does not take the place of national laws. A framework is provided to be respected by each Party, which then has to adopt its own domestic legislation to ensure that CITES is implemented at the national level. 

CITES has one of the largest membership numbers among conservation agreements, with 183 Parties signed up. 

Photography for Conservation

Using photography as a tool to spark interest in saving species has been a method used for at least the last decade, if not, the last two. Images stick to the mind and paint a better picture than just words on a page as people are able to see the animals that need to be saved, which is even more helpful if they maybe wouldn’t know what the animals were without the images. However, I have some personal scepticism over the types of images used to convey the need for saving those animals and creating conservation action. 

A tac-sharp wildlife photo that is perfect for framing or putting in a coffee table book. These sorts of images are the ones people love to put on their walls and often earn big money to give back to conservation charities.

Pretty images, such as those taken by professional wildlife photographers, some that are displayed in world-wide competitions, such as the Natural History Museum’s annual Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition, or even beautiful coffee table books featuring stunning images of wildlife are often used for fund raising to give money back to charities and organisations that do the on-the-ground work. However, these images don’t necessarily portray why the animals need to be saved, only that they are stunning and should belong in the wild. 

Images that invoke a reaction because of their shock factor may work better in getting people to take personal action against what is happening to wildlife, but do the images really need to be as gruesome as some of them are? Surely seeing images of rhinos with half their faces hacked off, or sacks full of pangolins and their scales would provoke emotions in even the toughest human being, except that the public may not know how to react to these images, or what action to take to stop these things being done. 

As much as there is a need for people to know how bad the situation is, showing the general public who may not have much knowledge on the world of conservation, provoking images of wildlife that have been harmed could cause upset without the right actions afterwards.

These shocking images not only appear in photographs but are often shown in TV adverts to catch the attention of viewers to donate money towards the rescue of these animals. But should these images really be so public? Or should these images be saved for members of the charities to show them exactly what they’re fighting against, especially the worst images of cruelty, brutality and gruesomeness of some scenes. 

An argument that these upsetting images perhaps don’t cause the right kind of action amongst people is because we are still having to show those images however many decades later, and sure not everyone will have seen the WWF advert of the orangutan clinging to the last stick of a tree in its burnt down home, but enough of the public should have seen it to create a stir. Enough people should have seen it to take action in reducing their consumption of palm oil, so are the images really working? 

The images that are used to create a stir in the public may make them want to take action, but maybe the images should also educate the public on how to take action. Such as showing the palm oil plantations taking over the rainforests and showing the public where this palm oil is used, such as foods, hair care products, maybe even in skincare products, and make resources available on better products to buy to drive down the need for palm oil. 

Other uses of education could be showing how the environment would be if certain animals died out, the risks of further pandemics maybe, or worse, the destruction of the human population itself. Examples such as hyaenas and vultures cleaning up carcasses to prevent disease spreading through the environment, or something such as the over-abundance of insects because frogs, birds and other insect eating species have died out, or how the world would look if we wiped out the pollinators completely. 

Imagery in conservation needs to provoke thought and action amongst the public, but the way it is done needs to be carefully considered. Over gruesome, and over horrific imagery may just put people off and they’ll just turn the page, or switch channels on their TV. The public needs more education in this area, the world of professionally trained conservationists is considerably small in comparison to the world population, and therefore, it is important that everyone is onboard with taking action against all of these problems. 

There are problems however, where if the blame game is played for the destruction of wildlife areas, the decimation of species or any other such tragic event where it is blamed on the public, they do not like that, and will argue against the facts. In fact, there were many outraged people commenting on Facebook about the last episode of A Perfect Plant, the latest David Attenborough series, where they show what humans have done to the earth, however I think the anger was based on the fact it was made out to be the general public’s fault.  As much as over consumption is to blame for the state of the world and its wild places, the only reason it has become so atrocious is because of the constant drive from a particular group of people, be it the government putting the economy over everything else, or rich celebrities telling people that if they have this one thing then they will be happy, and this happens hundreds of thousands of times over from many, many people advertising “products you need to get” etc. I personally want to yell in these people’s faces when they show their hauls from Primark and other fast fashion brands of hundreds of items that they don’t need. You see rooms full of makeup that no one person could ever use in a lifetime and yet companies sponsor them and send them more. I think there is a large community on YouTube especially, maybe even Facebook and Instagram who need to get educated on the damage they are causing considering most of them would describe themselves as “animal lovers”, but what they are doing to the environment by encouraging others to over consume things they simply don’t need is in fact not showing the wild animals affected just how much they apparently love them. This is not to say that I think everyone should be a minimalist and only own 100 items or whatever, but I think people need to take a step back and have a good think as to whether they need more clothes, shoes, makeup, new phones etc. before they go out and buy them. If you already have 400 items of clothing that you barely wear, do you really need any more? 

So as conservationists, and people who are passionate about the natural world, our job is to slightly forcibly open people’s eyes to the goings on in the world, and to also educate them on what they can do to help, without playing any sort of blame game. We must also remember that we cannot force our views onto anyone, they must be able to believe it for themselves through being educated in the right way, and so when trying to entice people in to want to save wildlife, and wild places, we must do so with care. 

As much as it is fun for me personally to see hyaenas take down a wildebeest in the Serengeti, I would imagine that some would not want to see the innards of that animal spilled all over the place in some of the pictures I took. However, this type of image, in an appropriate setting, can be used to make audiences aware of the importance of having hyaenas in the wild. 

I tried to pick the least gruesome photo in the series I had. Hyenas cleaning up kills like this helps to stop spread disease, it also helps to keep the wildebeest herds strong by taking out the weak ones. Nature knows what it’s doing as it’s best we just let mother nature get on with it. You can also see there is a Golden Jackal in the background, who will hopefully grab some bits to eat when the hyenas are finished. Other animals such as vultures, and maybe lions will help in the cleaning up process of this carcass.

My personal preference is to share pretty pictures of animals, along with some facts about them, in the hopes that people find those animals fascinating and maybe do their own research into saving them and finding out ways that they can help from home. 

A rather fine-art style Greater Kudu photo.

Let me know what your thoughts are in the comments. 

Southern Yellow-Billed Hornbill (Tockus leucomelas)

The Southern Yellow-Billed Hornbill is found throughout southern Africa including south-west Angola, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, southern Zambia, southern Malawi, western Mozambique and northern South Africa. 

It is a very common bird, and easy to recognise. They measure around 40cm from head to tail. They have a combination of pied white-spotted plumage (set with black). The most obvious giveaway of species is the long yellow bill. The males can weigh between 153-242g, and have a broad bill with a low casque that extends from ridge to tip. The female is smaller, weighing between 138-211g, and they have a smaller bill and shorter casque. The juvenile is very similar to the adults except they have a shorter, dull-yellow bill with brown spots. They are also known as “flying-bananas” due to their bills.

The Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill has an IUCN Red List Status of Least Concern, however, their numbers are decreasing, but their total population numbers are unknown. 

The preferred habitat of yellow-billed hornbills is savanna and open woodlands, which includes being along rivers and they also like grasslands with scattered trees. In the west, they are also known to live in arid semi-desert and thorn-bush country. 

Searching for food on the ground

They feed mostly on the ground, or in low bushes where they can be found walking or running to catch small prey. They are not known to do too much digging in the ground, but they will search the ground or among leaf litter, and they will search branches for small prey to pick off with their strong bills. They mostly prefer to eat small invertebrates, such as ant and termites, which is the most easily found prey in the dry season. However, when available, they will eat caterpillars, grasshoppers, beetles, centipedes and scorpions. They do take some vertebrate prey such as bird eggs and nestlings, and rodents when they can find them. They make also be found eating fruits and seeds when there is an abundance. 

Hornbill feeding on something

Southern yellow-billed hornbills are usually found in resident pairs or small family flocks, where they will stay in their home range all year. They are territorial and also return after feeding for the day. 

As with all but 2 species of hornbill, the yellow-billed hornbill does use a nest cavity for breeding. The breeding season for this species of hornbill usually starts after the first summer rains in September to March. The nest is a natural cavity found in trees, usually from 0.8-12.2 metres up. They do compete with other hole-nesting birds using cavities, however they do seem to tolerate other Tockus species such as the Red-billed or African Grey, who may co-exist and nest nearby, occasionally in the same tree. 

Yellow-billed hornbills are monogamous and the pair will start bonding about a month before they are ready to lay eggs. The courtship display includes calling, wing spreading, bowing heads and exchanging food. The nest is prepared with the entrance starting to be sealed and lining the internal nest floor with grass and leaves. The female enters the cavity after mating and finished sealing the entrance using mainly her own droppings, leaving it with a 5mm wide crack. The female will then take about 4-5 days to lay eggs, in which she could lay a clutch of between 2-6 eggs with intervals of 1-4 days. They incubation period for southern yellow-billed hornbill eggs is 24 days. 

The female will moult all of her flight feathers during confinement. The bond between the mating pair has to be incredibly strong as the female is relying on the male to bring food as she cannot leave the nest. The male will feed the female, and then later feed the chicks when they hatch, bringing single food items to the nest at a time. The male will visit the nest around 3 times an hour at the beginning, which sharply increases when the eggs start to hatch, and peaks at 11 visits per hour when the chicks are 10-20 days old. 

The eggs hatch in the order that they’re laid, which can last over a period of 9 days. The female will pass the food from the male to the chicks until they are about 10 days old, where they are then able to reach up and grab food directly from the male themselves. 

The female is responsible for the house-keeping of the nest until the chicks are about 10-15 days old where they are then big enough to turn around and eject their droppings directly out of the nest entrance. The female will clean out the nest by removing soiled leaves that are on the nest floor until the chicks are big enough. 

The female will emerge from the nest when the chicks are around 19-27 days old to help the male with the feeding. The chicks will re-seal the nest unaided from the inside. The chicks will then fledge the nest after 42-47 days, but they won’t all go at once, the younger chicks will stay in the nest and re-seal the entrance after the older ones have left. The whole nesting cycle lasts around 70-76 days. 

The juveniles are very weak fliers immediately after leaving the nest and so they will hang around the nesting tree, and still get fed by the parents until they are strong enough to fly out and feed themselves. They gradually learn how to forage for themselves, but still get food from the parents up to around 6 weeks after leaving the nest. 

Perching in a tree, although they are more commonly found on the ground

Things to Bring When Wildlife Watching

Today’s blog is going to go through some of the things I think are most important to have on you while out looking for wildlife. It may differ, depending on what your interests are, but this might be a helpful blog for beginners. 

The first and most important item in your wildlife watching bag should be a good pair of binoculars. Binoculars can help you see wildlife in much greater detail than just with your eyes, but to make sure they are affective, they need to be of good spec. There are binoculars that are very good that don’t cost an arm and a leg, but the basic thing to look for is the magnification. The magnification is the first number in something that looks like “10 x 42” on the description. The best magnifications are 8x or 10x, these will get you in close enough to the wildlife for you to be able to see good detail. The second number “42” refers to the size of the end lens, the bigger it is, the more light they let through, so therefore they can be used in more circumstances, such as being quite good for looking at the night sky on a clear night. The binoculars I use are the Vortex Diamondbacks “10 x 42”, which I purchased from The Safari Store over 6 years ago and they’re still going strong. 

The second most important item(s) is your wildlife ID book(s). It’s always good to bring an ID book with you so you know exactly what you’re looking at, even if you can identify many different birds/bugs/trees/flowers/reptiles etc. it’s always good in case you come across a species you maybe haven’t seen before. There are hundreds of thousands of ID books all over the internet for all different groups of animals from all sorts of locations from around the world. Always have a look for ID books for each location you travel to, a lot of books cover multiple locations, some even multiple topics which are useful for saving space and weight in your bag. The book I always take on a wildlife watching day out is my British Bird book, as birding is a particular favourite activity of mine. When I travel to Africa, I will usually take a bird book and at least one other book, maybe a mammals book, a book that covers multiple topics, or a track and signs book. 

A selection of my African Wildlife ID guides

So my every day carry is made up of a pair of binoculars and a bird book, but there are many other items I have if I am doing a longer day out, or perhaps going on a photography mission, or any other wildlife activity.

I have a very basic camera set-up, which is now in a new bag that I got for Christmas. It is much easier to photograph wildlife with a simpler set up as you’re not having to go through a ton of lenses to decide which would be the best one, or carry all that extra weight. My current set up consists of a Canon 7D Mark II, a Canon 100-400 L Mark II and a Canon 1.4x Mark II Extender. This set up serves me very well and I have taken some pretty awesome photos if I do say so myself. I have used a ton of different camera bodies and lenses over the last few years of my photography journey, but this set up suits me the best for now, the only thing I may add in the near future is a wider-angle lens, for when wildlife comes closer than my lens allows for. My set up has proven to be good out in the wilds and also in zoo settings. I now also use a Crumplr messenger style camera bag, rather than a camera backpack, although I still have to test my new bag in the field, so once this latest lockdown is over, I will be trying it out at the zoo. 

Another amazing bunch of items in my inventory are my FSC guides. These are laminated (or at least waterproofed to some extent) fold out card things that cover a range of topics from birds, to mammals, to tracks to plant species. These are especially useful if you’re only looking for specific species as you don’t have to rifle through a full ID book to find what you’re looking for. A lot of the species on these guides are also fairly easy to identify and these guides are amazing for teaching courses to young children, as well as university groups and adults. The guides can be bought singularly or in different packs which usually include 5 guides. You can purchase your guides directly from the FSC website. 

My insect and plant guides
My bird guides
My mammal guides

My favourite websites to look for wildlife items to have in my pack include: 

And a few others, but these four are the main ones. For more ideas of what to have in your wildlife pack, you can always check out my Christmas Gift idea blog, which features a ton of ideas and links for gifts specifically for outdoorsy wildlife lovers. These gift ideas could help you to build your own wildlife pack as well. 

When creating your wildlife watching pack, always think about where it is you’re going, how long you’re going to be there, and what you’ll be doing/looking for. Another item you may wish to add to your wildlife watching pack is a notebook and a pen to record all of your sightings (lots of wildlife watchers do this as they can then create spreadsheets etc. of all the different species they’ve seen). Always carry gear to protect you from any weather you might experience if out in the field for a long time, the most important things are to stay warm and dry, otherwise it gets very uncomfortable, or to make sure you don’t get sunburnt or dehydrated as that gets particularly nasty to sort out. 

Legendary Safari Guides – by Susie Casenove

The never-ending pandemic has become rather frustrating to a large number of us, especially to those of us who love to travel, explore and watch wildlife in their natural habitat. To fill the lockdowns and times of unemployment due to this dire situation, reading has become somewhat of a relaxing escape to imaginary worlds. One of the books I read during this time was “Legendary Safari Guides” by Susie Casenove. 

This book focuses on the lives and achievements of some of the most outstanding safari guides in Africa. The stories of each of these guides seems somewhat unreal and, in some cases, rather Indiana Jones like, but at the same time, you can just picture the scenery and the adventures that these guides found themselves in. 

Not only did Susie describe in great detail all of the guides she has been so fortunate to meet, but she also does a great job of describing the countries, the reserves and the camps themselves to really set the scene and send your imagination wild just picturing all of these places. The descriptions of each place were so well written that it has inspired some future travel ideas for my own journeys to Africa. Africa is a land of adventure, and these safari guides were some of the very first in the industry and set up a number of the guide training camps now found in many different areas throughout Southern Africa. 

While reading the accounts of each of the guides, I was quite aware of how lacking the health and safety appeared to be in the early days of the guiding industry and makes some of my “scary” moments in the bush seem rather tame in comparison. Some of these guide’s stories are inspiring and endearing, it only makes me want to get back to the bush more, however the imaginary land in my head will have to do for now and with a book so well written, it is really not difficult at all to picture yourself there. 

The chapters are segmented into countries and regions, with the sub-chapters then being each of the guides that Susie meets in those areas. The first chapter is called “The World of Safari Travel”, something I feel can help the unexperienced bush goer prepare themselves for what’s to come. 

The Chapters each start with a quote that prepare you for what you’re about to read, but also are words to really digest and think about before your next adventure to the African bush. The chapters are set out really well and gives the book a really good flow. A few of the guides that Susie writes about are interconnected and have sometimes crossed paths and it’s nice to see what a community the safari guiding industry is. 

Not only are the guides safari guides, but a number of them were pioneering conservationists, helping to set up, run and manage different reserves, projects, wildlife populations and so on. Guides really are guardians of the wilderness and to read about where it all came from and started, really starts to emphasise what it means to be a guide. 

Having wanted to go into safari guiding since my teenage years, I’m all the more for reading anything and everything about people who have lived this life before me. Due to personal reasons, it looks like I might never go and do it myself, but living the experience through the lives of others helps to fill in the space of what I feel I’m missing out on. Susie has portrayed every single guide she met in such a respectful, fun and imaginative way, so that after reading about each one of the people she mentions, you feel like you know them as well as you know an old friend. The guides in this book were so passionate for their work that the phrase “if you love your job, you’ll never work a day in your life” comes to mind. But how could you not love waking up to the sounds and sights of the bush every day and educate new clients and old clients about the environment you call home.

I think the feelings I gained through reading this book could be summed up as fortunate and envy. I feel fortunate because of all the experiences I’ve had myself out in the bush, and reading this book brought up some of my old memories of guides I’ve met and the things I got up to, but also envy for the lives that these guides have lived. 

To anyone who is missing being out in the wilds, exploring and watching wildlife, I strongly recommend you purchasing this book as being able to escape into an imaginary, but familiar world might just lift your spirits a little. This book will also give you so many ideas for future travel plans, and perhaps the idea of preparing for a big adventure in the future will help to get you through these hard times, it is certainly one of the things that has kept me going. 

To purchase the book, click here: Legendary Safari Guides (I do not earn anything from you using this link)

In-situ Conservation

In-situ conservation summed up in basic terms, is just conservation on the ground in the natural environment of the species you’re saving. There is a large variety of different types of in-situ project that contributes towards the conservation of a species, sometimes helping to conserve multiple species at the same time. 

Types of in-situ conservation projects 

When it comes to conserving species, one of the biggest and most upfront methods that comes to mind is anti-poaching rangers. These rangers are there to stop the needless and unnecessary killing of endangered animals, either by means of arrest or sometimes having to resorting to killing the poachers if met with aggression. Anti-poaching, however, is not the only type of in-situ conservation, it comes in many forms and functions, so here is a small list of the types of work and projects that would be considered in-situ:

Helping with the babysitting of an orphaned rhino 6 years ago
  • Wildlife Rehabilitation and release
  • Wildlife veterinary
  • Wildlife research
  • Habitat protection
  • Habitat restoration 
  • Wildlife management (i.e. restoring populations in areas where there are low numbers, by taking animals from areas with very high numbers) 
  • Wildlife monitoring (can be using GPS trackers etc.)
  • Education for the local community – one of the most important and effective forms of saving the wild places. 
  • Preserving traditional knowledge and practices of native cultures 
  • Creating legislation for the species within their natural environment to keep them better protected as there will be high sanctions for anyone caught harming them. 

Do we really need ex-situ conservation work if we have effective in-situ conservation?

The short answer is yes. Unfortunately, a large number of the critically endangered and endangered species are found in developing countries; these countries have high unemployment rates and the money to poach an animal is tempting when you’re trying to feed your family. These countries also fairly often lack the funds to put back into their wildlife, and therefore, countries that are able to provide support, need to. 

Sumatran Orangutan at Chester Zoo – used for a breeding programme to have a good range of genetics and a back-up population

Have a read of last week’s blog, The Importance of Zoos, and find out why keeping zoos open and functioning is so incredibly important. 

But yes, if we are to have an impactful effect on the outcomes of the conservation projects, keeping ex-situ conservation efforts is incredibly important. If we were to mess up and not get the support of the locals, or the rangers in place in time to save a species, a back-up needs to be held somewhere, and good zoos and wildlife sanctuaries are the places to do this. Projects can be formed in ex-situ places such as in zoos, and work towards creating in-situ efforts, this is because zoos are able to raise funding for these projects which they can then use to provide equipment, qualified teachers for the locals and specialists to work with the locals to help run the projects. 

Can I get involved in projects to help save wildlife?

Absolutely you can, I have been on many different projects, specifically to Africa and have worked first-hand with some of the wildlife at a rehabilitation centre and saw some of the residents be released back to the wild. 

A better picture of baby rhino – go get involved, it’s great fun, great experience and you get to work hands on with amazing species like this.

The projects that are set up with reputable organisations do amazing work. Not only do they help with the efforts of on-hand conservation, such as wildlife rehabilitation, wildlife research and wildlife relocation, but to name a few; they also do important work at going to local schools to educate children, and also, most importantly, create new jobs for the locals to help drive down unemployment rates, paying them good salaries so that they are not tempted to illegally poach animals just to feed their families. 

Is there anything I can do at home that will positively impact conservation efforts?

Yes. There are always things you can be doing at home. Two big things come to mind for me, something which I haven’t perfected yet, but am slowly working towards. Reduce the amount of plastic you buy and use. Reduce the number of products you buy that contain palm oil. 

Plastic is one of the biggest killers to the biggest number of species out of any other danger to wildlife. Plastic is found in ocean dwelling wildlife, river wildlife, terrestrial wildlife and almost any other type of wildlife you can think of. It is killing species left, right and centre because they aren’t aware of the dangers they face when they consume it, nor are they able to tell it apart from other food they would eat, especially plastic bags as they look quite a lot like jellyfish in the water. As well as consuming plastic, animals get tangled up in it and suffer horrific injuries, often taking a long time for them to die and so they experience an immense amount of suffering at the end of a short-lived life because of man. There are so many eco-friendly, sustainable, plastic free businesses popping up all over the world, and it’s time we really start to push these businesses to the top and get the plastic situation under control. 

The problem with palm oil is that it can be found in almost everything. It is used in a whole range of food products, skincare and haircare products and a number of things I can’t even think of. Not only are these foods and products pre-packaged and contribute towards the plastic crisis, but they are also driving the destruction of habitats for endangered animals, one of the most famous species affected is the Orangutan. There are two ways to go about dealing with this problem, either go completely off all packaged food and only make things from scratch and use natural cleaning solutions like shampoo bars etc. Or you can look for products that contain sustainably sourced palm oil. 

My first order from Peace With The Wild that came this week – a wooden hairbrush, natural deodorant in cardboard packaging, biodegradable floss in a reusable container – you can buy refills in sustainable packaging for many items, and a stainless steel tongue scraper.

It does take a huge amount of effort from all of us to make these changes, but if we lead the way by making choices that negatively affect the businesses who don’t want to cooperate (i.e. making their profits shrink because we’re not buying from them) they will eventually have to change their ways to gain customers again. We as the consumer have the most power in making companies change their ways, and if a lot of us make it noticeable that we will not buy packaged fruit and veg (that really doesn’t need it) or unsustainably sourced palm oil products, we will drive the change. Through our actions, and our actions alone, we will make a difference and help with the fight to save the earth. If you’re going to be making any changes this year, I urge you to really try and use as many eco-friendly products as you possibly can, even if you are only able to change to a re-usable water bottle, you will be saving so much money and plastic in the long run. 

Two companies I am using this year are: 

  • Smol – for my laundry pods and dishwasher tabs – no plastic wrapping on individual pods/tabs and the outside container is cardboard making it fully recyclable. 
  • Peace With The Wild – an eco-friendly company providing a range of products for the kitchen, bathroom, going out and a whole array of other items. 

By making these changes to living with less plastic in your home, more natural products and products that use less palm oil, your actions are making it easier for the people working out in the field trying to save the wildlife.

The Importance of Zoos in Conservation

As I mentioned briefly in my last blog post, zoos are one of the most underappreciated and underestimated forces of the conservation world. Without zoos, there would be an even larger number of extinct animals than there already is. 

Not only do zoos keep animals to show off to the public and to use them for education, every single animal kept in zoos (good zoos that is), are used in breeding programmes to secure the genetics of different species so that there is no interbreeding of related individuals and to help increase the population at the same time. 

Zoos are especially important in this day and age where the plight of animals’ extinction is primarily human-caused. Humans have caused so much habitat destruction and persecution of animals that they wouldn’t be able to recover unless humans completely disappeared from the planet. We are able to help keep healthy populations of animals within the zoos care and to make sure that all individuals are viable, should populations be needed to be released back into the wild. 

Conservation doesn’t just happen in the zoo

Not only do zoos physically hold backups of animals, should the devastating day come where they are declared extinct in the wild and so the captive populations would be needed for recovery programmes, but zoos all over the world also run large numbers of in-situ conservation programmes, funded by the zoos. 

My local zoo, Chester Zoo, has many in-situ conservation projects that it’s involved with, I think in the region of 60-70 projects around the world. These projects work with a variety of animal species from small passerine birds, to lemurs, to tigers. 

For example, the tiger project run by Chester Zoo “Living with Tigers” works with the local community in Nepal in the surrounding areas of the tiger’s habitat to help prevent human-tiger conflict. It works with around 1200 households across eight communities in the surrounding areas; working to improve the safety of humans and livestock. 

With all conservation projects, it is of utmost importance for the local communities to be involved, as without their help, the problems the animals are facing still continue. It is all well and good to plan a project and to always see the best outcomes in your mind, but unless those ideas and goals are introduced to the local communities, with education such as the importance of those animals, or techniques to keep themselves and their livestock safe, there won’t be much, if any improvement of the wildlife populations. 

Reintroductions to the wild using zoo animals 

As I have mentioned, zoos are often the last remaining sources of species when they have gone extinct in the wild. Some zoos have had great success at reintroducing species that have been wiped out in their native habits, one of which is the reintroduction of two species of snail to French Polynesia. Chester Zoo alongside ZSL Whipsnade Zoo had breeding programmes to recover populations of Partula rosea and Partula varia which were then taken back to French Polynesia to be released over 25 years after a human-introduced invasive species wiped them out. Some of the most successful reintroductions are from invertebrate and lower invertebrate groups as the logistics and breeding times of these species is often dramatically less than large mammals and birds. 

There are reintroduction programmes that have involved large mammals and I’m sure birds as well. One of the most well-known was when 5 black rhinos from zoos across Europe were taken to be reintroduced to a reserve in Rwanda. These rhinos endured a long translocation and the aim of getting them to Rwanda was to help increase the genetic diversity of the rhinos in the national park. 

As a success story, the black rhino reintroduction programme gives hope for other species that are endangered due to human actions. The rhino population is in dire need of saving after humans are responsible for a 95% decline of the black rhino.

Without the programmes run by zoos, and the hard work of the keepers caring for them, the veterinary teams, the conservation officers, geneticists and a whole host of other people behind the scenes of the enormous efforts that are made, some of our animals would be gone forever. If humans are still going to persecute animals, zoos have to stay. We cannot let our animals that belong in the natural world go extinct because of greedy, selfish humans that only see wildlife with big price tags on their heads. The day that humans are no longer a threat to animals, is the day that we would no longer need to have zoos. 

I am aware of people who don’t support zoos, these are usually people who, through no fault of their own, are fairly ignorant to what goes on behind the scenes of zoos. Humungous efforts from keepers, nutritionists, animal behaviour experts, vets, other researchers and experts all work to make sure that the animals receive the highest standard of care and welfare. No, a zoo enclosure will never be like it is in the wild, however, almost all animals that are in zoos now have been born there and know nothing else, therefore, if all zoos were forced to shut, the animals couldn’t be returned to the wild as they have never developed the survival skills they would need to live there. 

A final note – please look into supporting your local zoo if you can, many have set up just giving pages as they are in desperate need of money to be able to feed and look after their animals. The government has made it almost impossible for zoos to access funding and they keep being forced to shut during lockdown periods. The work that the zoos are involved with is paramount in keeping a large number of species from going extinct, not only that but a lot of healthy animals may need to be euthanised if they are unable to care for them in their zoo homes.

Wildlife Conservation

What exactly is wildlife conservation?

Wildlife conservation is primarily working to protect plant and animal species, and their natural habitats. 

Elephants are one of the most well-known animals that have huge protection and conservation actions in place.

Who is involved in wildlife conservation?

There are many organisations and individuals involved in conservation; from environmental law makers, to wildlife rehabilitators, to wildlife veterinarians, safari guides, game rangers, ecologists among many others. Some big, well known conservation bodies include WWF (World Wildlife Fund), Wildlife Conservation Network, National Audubon Society, World Land Trust, and hundreds of others.

One important group of people, who are often forgotten about or shunned, are zookeepers and zoo staff. Zoos offer the absolute last resort of backup genetics for any species that is close to extinction or has gone extinct. There are a number of species that would be completely gone without zoos, and some species have even been put back into the wild, so we definitely need zoos, mostly because of the acts of humans who selfishly take and take without thinking of the consequences. I will be going into depth on the work of zoos in an upcoming blog, so make sure you look out for that.

When we think of conservation, we mostly think of animals, maybe the plight of the rhinos comes to mind, or the piles of burning elephant tusks shocked you so you want to protect the elephants now, but have you ever considered that plants need specialist conservation in certain parts of the world? 

There are species of plant which have become incredibly rare; usually caused by habitat destruction, such as illegal logging in the Amazon Rainforest, and replanting the land with an oil palm plantation. There are projects all over the world trying to create backup seed banks of these plants so that if the devasting day comes where these plants can’t be found in the wild, there is still a pool of seeds that can be used to regrow them. One such project in the UK is the infamous Eden Project in Cornwall, although I’m yet to visit myself still. 

Why is conservation such a big deal?

Conservation is a big deal because the main reason animals and plants are becoming so greatly endangered is due to humans. There are some pretty nasty people in the world that for whatever reason think that their bank balance is worth more than an animals’ life. In other cases, there are people trying to feed their families that get lured in to do the dirty work for the rich people who want more. 

If we don’t try and conserve the natural world, the earth will be thrown out of balance, and issues like the Coronavirus pandemic will become more frequent. The continuous removing of the world’s rainforests will drive climate change to uncontrollable heights, with extreme weather becoming increasingly frequent and unpredictable. The reduction of invertebrates, especially the pollinators, won’t just mean reduced food sources for wildlife, but reduced food sources for us. A lot of our food is produced with plant products, without the pollinators, our food abundance will dwindle. 

Vultures. Not everyone likes them, but I think they’re kinda cool. I think these ones are White-backs.

Not only will the poaching and killing of animals upset the natural balance of the world, it could be a cause for major disease outbreaks that would otherwise be under control. For instance, vultures have an incredibly strong stomach acid, capable of killing some very horrible diseases such as anthrax. Vultures are prosecuted and poached for traditional beliefs and medicines; some ridiculous notions including that if you eat the brain of a vulture, you will be able to see into the future and others pertaining the smoking of certain body parts, sleeping with the skull next to your pillow etc. Vultures are being killed in mass numbers caused by purposefully poisoned carcasses, seriously affecting the numbers left in the wild. Just a few months after I left Africa, at the start of 2015, there was a mass poisoning, killing 65 vultures in one fell swoop; but not only did the poisoned carcass kill the vultures, two jackals were found dead, as well as a number of other animals as the poison had run into a nearby water source. Vultures, jackals and other predators especially are incredibly important to keep disease from spreading through the eco-system from old rotting carcasses. 

Other animals are also killed for “traditional medicine” with notions such as curing cancer, improving sexual health, reducing headaches and other such things. With scientific evidence and studies, we know these things are simply not true and it is unbelievable that the killing of animals still goes on to drive this industry. 

How does conservation work then with so many different issues?

Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania is a protected area, meaning it is illegal to hunt or poach any animal that resides in this area.

A lot of conservation efforts start way before thinking about working in the field to make protection plans. One of the most effective ways to drive out the traditional medicines, and other beliefs that may be carried, is to educate the local people, especially the children in the local schools. Children often become very passionate when they are exposed to some of these issues and it allows them to go home and tell their parents about it. Of course, there are going to be people who refuse to change and that is why on the ground protection and research is needed. 

Conservation projects will first send a group of specialist researchers into the area of interest to find out more about the animal’s ecology, behaviour, range and other such things. From this information, a plan of action can be developed, such as creating protected areas where it is then illegal to enter or hunt, and then to put anti-poaching units on patrol in those areas. There are other steps that will need to be taken due to funding distribution needs etc which is normally the determining factor sadly. There are many other things that happen in conservation, perhaps more steps that I am not aware of as of yet, but these are the basic considerations for setting up and running a conservation project. 

There are many other projects set up, such as Animals Asia, who work to rescue Sun Bears in Asia that have been trapped for the bear bile farming industry, an absolutely horrific thing to see. 

There are many different aspects of conservation, some are office jobs pertaining to management and coordination of projects, some jobs are physical and in the field, researching, protecting and so on. 

What isn’t lacking in any area of these jobs is the passion to protect the natural world, something which sadly the humans shouldn’t be involved with as we don’t know how to care for it properly. No other animal seeks out to destroy another animals home deliberately, no matter the costs.  

Wildlife conservation support ideas

  • Your local zoo – a lot of zoos run many different in-situ projects, helping to protect the habitat for the cousins of the animals you see in their care (make sure it’s a reputable zoo where the animals have high welfare standards). 
  • WWF – they have many different projects all over the world protecting habitats and protecting the animals within those habitats.
  • In-situ volunteering projects – these projects will employ locals (helping with many developing countries and their high unemployment rates) – these projects will also give you experience to put on your CV to help you further your career.
  • Any charity that piques your interest – maybe you have a favourite animal, or group of animals – look for charities that work with those species and support them. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of wildlife conservation charities out there, and if you’re here reading this blog, you have the internet so you will be able to find them if you look hard enough. One example would be the Urban Caracal Project in South Africa, working to conserve Caracals in Cape Town. 
  • Becoming an advocate to protect a certain species. No, you don’t need a big name like David Attenborough or Jane Goodall to campaign to save animals. You could start your own blog about your passion, helping to educate others and driving passion in them. This could either help you raise funds to support an already existing charity, or you could work to create your own in the future. 
  • Promote conservation education, encourage people to watch nature documentaries, read nature books, go on nature walks and become mindful of their impact on the world. 

Wildlife we Associate with Christmas

There are a number of different animals that we associate with Christmas, whether it’s to do with the wildlife we see at this time of year, or because we know they live in a cold place, or an example like Reindeer that live in a cold place, but are also very much associate with the Christmas Story. 

The most common animals associated with Christmas include Robins, Reindeers, Polar Bears, Penguins (Emperor), and Donkeys. Some of these animals, especially the Artic and Antarctic living wildlife might be associated with Christmas purely because they live in cold, snowy places, something that a lot of people in the Northern Hemisphere associate with the Christmas holiday. I do however wonder how different people’s ideas of Christmas might be in the Southern Hemisphere, someone who has never experienced the winter in the north and has only ever had Christmas in 40°C. 

Christmas cards, wrapping paper, gift boxes etc. celebrate these animals that we associate with Christmas because it is a sales point for them, but how much do most of these companies actually care about these animals? How much do these companies, profiting off of their cute little designs, based on our wildlife of the world, some of which are particularly endangered, donate to charity to save these animals? And how many of these companies are working towards reducing plastic waste, carbon waste etc? I already have some wrapping paper from previous years that I’m still needing to use up before needing to get more, but as a lot of these papers due to the printing are unrecyclable, I’ve now bought a huge roll of brown craft paper. Boring, plain, no fun designs craft-paper; however this is much more easily recycled, it’s cheaper to get more, and I’ve seen a number of art stores supplying it without plastic wrapping on the tubes. 

A lot of wildlife charities have their own shops and may sell their own gift wrap with designs of the animals they work with. It would be better to purchase your gift wrap from these places as the profits go directly to the charities so that they can continue their efforts in conservation and keeping these animals from going extinct. 

What do you think, do you think as a moral issue that companies who are using designs of endangered, or vulnerable species and profiting from this, have an obligation to give back to the charities who are working to save these species?

Some Christmas Wildlife Facts: 

European Robin Erithacus rubecula

The European Robin is an incredibly common sight on Christmas cards and wrapping paper (at least in the UK it is). They can be seen all over the UK all year round, so you are highly likely to find robins when wondering around on a nature walk. 

The European Robin has an IUCN status of Least Concern with an increasing population trend. There are estimated to be between 130,000,000-200,999,999 mature individuals, one of the most abundant numbers of animals I’ve ever seen. Robins are everywhere in the UK, from being common in gardens to nature reserves, and I even see them in zoo enclosures on my visits there. 

The robins diet consists of worms, seeds, fruits, insects and other invertebrates. Robins are incredibly curious creatures and are one of the easiest wild birds to get up close to. I have tempted wild robins to perch on my hands before when I’ve had bird seed on me. Make sure if you are feeding these birds that you use proper bird feed so that you don’t make them sick. 

A robin is around 14cm in length from head to tail and they have a wingspan of 20-22cm. They are very small birds, only weighing between 14-21 grams. 

Reindeer Rangifer tarandus 

It would be very silly if I missed out reindeer, considering the overtly popular character that is Rudolph and his friends that help Santa bring your presents to you. 

Reindeer are however in a spot of bother, with an IUCN Red List Status of Vulnerable and a decreasing population trend. As well as Dasher, Dancer, Prancer and Vixen. Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen, and of course Rudolph, there are another 2,890,391 mature individuals. 

Reindeer can be found in Canada, Finland, Greenland, Mongolia, Norway, Russia and the United States. They were introduced and have now become resident in the Falkland Islands, Iceland, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. 

The reindeers preferred habitat is Forest and Grassland. 

Reindeer are also known as Caribou and they are a member of the deer family. They only tend to be called Caribou in North America, and is a term they use for wild animals, whereas they refer to them as reindeer if they are domesticated. 

Both males and females grow antlers, whereas in other deer species it is just the males that have them. Reindeer have the largest and heaviest antlers compared to body size of all extant deer species, with males’ antlers reaching around 51 inches long and a female’s reaching up to 20 inches long. 

Similar to the wildebeest that migrate through the Serengeti and Masaai Mara in search of food sources, reindeer have a similar style of migration to find better sources of food when it becomes hard to find during the winter. 

Polar Bear Ursus maritimus 

Polar bears are a common feature of wrapping paper and cards at this time of year, however they are one of the most hard hit animals by the action of climate change. They currently have an IUCN Red List status of Vulnerable, however the population trend is unknown and there isn’t much information on their population numbers.

Polar bears are one of the biggest examples as to the damages climate change is causing; from their desiccated hunting due to the level of sea ice melting, reducing the areas they can reach to hunt, to the complete disappearance of sea ice in the summer during recent years. There have been images online of polar bears as skeletons with a bit of skin and fur covering them and it is one of the most upsetting sights. 

They are most commonly found in the high arctic circle, which allows them to hunt in their own unique environment. 

Polar bears are the largest bear species in the world and they are the Arctic’s top predator. Their scientific name (Ursus maritimus) translates from Latin to mean “sea bear”; a very appropriate name for an animal that spends the majority of its life in or around the ocean, and as mentioned previously, on sea ice. 

Polar bears are powerful swimmers and are able to maintain a speed of around 6mph in the water by paddling with their front paws and using their hind legs like a rudder. The polar spends about 50% of its time hunting, with successes reaching only 10-20% of their seal hunts. The main species of seals they hunt are ringed and bearded seals, due to these species having a higher fat content which is what the polar bears need to survive. 

Some weird and wonderful facts about polar bears include: 

  • They have 3 eye lids, the 3rd being used to protect their eyes from the elements
  • 4 inches of fat under their skin to keep them warm
  • Polar bears have black skin
  • The fur of polar bears is actually transparent

Penguin (Emperor) Aptenodytes forsteri

Emperor Penguin photographed at Bird World in the Cotswolds in 2015.

Emperor penguins, although just one of many species are one of the most famous species of penguin and so that’s why I’ve chosen this species for the Christmas wildlife facts list. 

Emperor Penguins have an IUCN Red List Status of Near Threatened with a decreasing population trend. There is an estimated 595,000 mature Emperor Penguins in Antarctica, however  there is so much research still needing to be done on this species. 

Emperor Penguins are only found in Antarctica in the wild; they raise their chicks on something known as “fast ice”, which is described as a floating platform of frozen ocean which is connected to land or ice shelves. They spend their entire lives around the Antarctic Ice, although there have been some rare sightings of this species showing up in New Zealand. 

Of the 18 extant penguin species, Emperor Penguins are the largest, and are one of the largest birds in the world. They are around 120cm tall, and weigh around 40kg, however their weight does fluctuate a lot throughout the year. 

The incubation of this species eggs is between 65-75 days where the male will keep the egg balanced on his feet in a warm and specially adapted brood pouch to keep the egg warm. 

Emperor Penguins are one of the most readily adapted animals to cope with freezing cold temperatures. In the Antarctic, it can drop to -50°C and have winds of up to 200km/hr. To cope with the horrendous weather, they have special adaptations including two layers of feathers and a good reserve of fat, they also have smaller beaks and flippers compared to other penguins to prevent heat loss. They also have feathers on their legs, helping to prevent extra heat loss. Their feet are even adapted to the freezing cold conditions by containing special fats that prevent them from freezing and also strong claws that help them to grip the ice. 

The most famous behaviour penguins use is the penguin huddle. This is colonies of adults and chicks, numbering 5,000 or more, tightly packing together, switching places frequently so that no penguin is on the outside of the huddle for too long. 

Emperor penguins are amazing divers, and are some of the best in the bird world. One of the deepest recorded dives of an Emperor penguin was 564m, with the longest dive reaching nearly 28 minutes. 

The penguins main diet consists of fish, mostly Antarctic silverfish, along with some other species of fish, krill and some squid. On average they eat about 2-3kg of fish a day, however there are times where they can eat double this amount to build up fat stores for the winter, or for feeding their chicks.

Donkey (New Forest)

Donkeys are associated to Christmas because of the story involving Mary and Joseph and them making their way to the Inn that was full. 

Donkeys in the New Forest are actually quite rare, although we have a small group right near where my parents live that have an affection to the village shop. There are only around 200 donkeys on the forest, compared with the 3,000 New Forest ponies. All animals on the forest are owned by the Commoners, these are people who live on the New Forest and have rights to graze their animals on the forest. 

The male donkeys (Jacks) are allowed on the forest all year round, unlike the male ponies (stallions), the only time a Jack would be removed is if it was being badly behaved, where it would then have to go back and live on its commoners property. 

Donkeys aren’t native to the UK, they were brought here by the Romans, meaning that there isn’t a particular New Forest breed of donkey like there is pony, although we call them New Forest donkeys as it mostly refers to where you find them. 

You must remember that if you visit the New Forest, it is an offence to feed the animals. So many tourists do this which creates behavioural problems with the animals, such as aggression near people, and them coming to the roads looking for food. The problem with them coming to the road is that they are darkly coloured and you really struggle to see them at night, causing many fatalities every year. 

Using Nature to Manage Mental Health

Disclaimer*

I am in no way a trained mental health specialist, psychologist or psychiatrist; however, I am a sufferer of extreme anxiety, which also causes depressive episodes and I also have slight SAD (seasonal affective disorder).

The calming effects of nature

Living with anxiety sucks, anyone who has lived with it in the past, or lives with it currently knows that. Online advise always mentions setting a routine, eating healthy and getting regular exercise, but very few sources mention the effects that being in nature can have on you. Well, I’m here to tell you that being out in nature can make a difference, in fact, such a strong difference that your attacks may have a reduced severity when you experience them.

Squirrels scurrying around is fun to watch and often puts a smile on my face.

This year in particular I have suffered some extreme attacks that have lasted for over a week in a couple of cases. I go through phases where I don’t sleep for days on end, which starts to have quite an impact on the rest of your everyday life. I have been a sufferer of insomnia since the day I was born, in fact my mum tells me stories of my childhood where no matter what my nanny tried while my mum was at work, I just would not go to sleep. I never had phases where I wouldn’t sleep at all though, I would maybe have very insufficient sleep of 2-4 hours in a night, but never none at all. My recent most severe insomnia attack kept me awake for 9 days straight with maybe an hour of sleep on a couple of the days. During these phases I didn’t feel like going out, I couldn’t eat because I was also suffering from a different syndrome-based condition that it caused, and I was trapped in an endless cycle.

Since that attack, I have tried my hardest to go out every single day, rain or shine, cold, mild, or freezing and blowing a gale. That attack was only maybe a month ago; I have suffered another attack since then, but nowhere near as severe. Walking every single day, being out breathing the fresh air, feeling the breeze on my face, getting some exercise and seeing some wildlife has saved me in ways I can’t understand. Walking in nature is such a simple thing, but it really can change your mindset and mood when you’re having a bad day. There are techniques used to control anxiety known as “grounding techniques” which makes you really concentrate on things activating all of your senses, rather than what’s going on inside. I find going out in nature especially helpful after I’ve had to do something I find stressful because stressful things make me all jittery, shaky and just a little out of sorts for the rest of the day. 

I first started using nature as an escape from my anxiety almost four years ago. After I quit uni in December 2016, I went 3 months where I didn’t leave the house at all except for going food shopping once a week because the outside world felt “dangerous”. It was especially “dangerous” for me in areas where there were lots of people around because I sometimes find crowds of people hard to navigate. My boyfriend decided one freezing February morning that enough was enough and we were going exploring, even if it was just for 10 minutes, I was leaving the house. I think the first day I managed a 20-30 minute walk; although it was only 20-30 minutes, it was a life-saving walk, I had finally left my four-walled prison, and I finally had a smile on my face! 

A Blue Tit photographed in South Wales a couple of years ago. Their sweet singing is nice to hear compared to man-made sounds.

Having gone back to a tremendously bad state this year, nature is working wonders; yes, I’m still having trouble sleeping for reasons I don’t know, but I’m getting some sleep. Yes, I still get anxiety, but in recent weeks, the attacks haven’t been all that bad. Yes, the miserable weather is still getting me down because of SAD. But no, I’m not nearly half as bad as I was even a couple months ago. Okay, so I’ve started receiving counselling to really start to dig and get to the bottom of my triggers, troubles and everything else that has been affecting me for years, but the only other things that have changed is a better going to bed and waking up routine and going out in nature EVERY SINGLE DAY! 

Nature is essential in my recovery; it helps to bring me back to the present moment when my head spirals out of control. Nature provides sights, sounds, smells, textures to touch, but maybe don’t taste anything unless you know what you’re doing. Using the senses really helps to calm an anxious mind, so why not use nature. Reducing the affects from anxiety can also be done using distractions, so if you love nature, why not use it as a distraction? Why not go and try and find a new bird species to add to the list, or try and identify a new bird call? Maybe you can go and crunch some autumn leaves with your boots in the last of the autumn weather, or go and crunch some icy puddles now that the colder weather is going to start setting in? 

Juvenile Mute Swan photographed a few years ago in winter. I didn’t expect to see anything on this particular walk, or get any good photos, but you just never know.

Even if you don’t suffer from mental health issues, nature is a great way to get away from life’s problems. Being humans, we’re not supposed to be cooped up in offices behind screens all day long or locked in our houses for the next 6 months while winter rolls around. 

I encourage everyone to get out and experience and enjoy nature as much as you possibly can, you never know what you may find, and although you might get cold and a little damp (especially in Britain), what’s the worst that could happen, other than the benefits which are proven such as reduced stress, better sleep, and as important as ever in the current world climate, a stronger immune system.