Guest post - five minute read
Mary Colwell, producer, writer and naturalist
It’s a common topic of conversation at the moment, how the restrictions imposed by COVID have forced us all to slow down and take note, especially of the natural world.
People are commenting on birdsong and bees, flowers and foxes as never before. It is as though someone has tweaked the settings on nature and turned up the volume and increased the brightness on the world around us. Nature hasn’t changed of course, it is we who have been awakened to what is around us every day.
During lockdown a friend sent me a recording of a bird and asked me what it was, she hadn’t noticed it before. It was a great tit. It had always been there tick-tocking away in her city garden, but now it was alive and real in her life. When I told her one bird researcher called them ‘psycho-tits,’ as they have been known to bash in the skulls of other bird’s chicks, and in days gone by to peck the flesh of hanged men, she was hooked on garden birdwatching.
Awe and wonder at the life that lives around us is transformative. Suddenly, our neighbourhood becomes special. “When people connect with nature, it happens somewhere” says entomologist and author Richard Pyle. For him it was a local drainage ditch where the invertebrate life became a mini-world of wonder. For others it maybe a local nature reserve or a garden or the city park, it doesn’t matter. Everywhere is special and nature has a way of drawing us in and getting us hooked.
On the other hand, the past COVID months have also been difficult and tragic for many people. Nature has also been there as a healer and acting as a bridge for those feeling oppressed and lonely. Being surrounded by and observing nature allows us to leave aside the many human problems for a while and to gain succour and new vigour from life on earth.
The great nineteenth century environmentalist, John Muir, encouraged everyone to get to know the natural world and wrote, “Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of autumn.”
Nature speaks a common language to us all, whatever community we come from, whatever our stage of life or religious beliefs. Everyone has access to birds, animals and plants, whether that be a patch of greenery with dandelions in the city or a mountain resplendent with wildflowers in a national park.
A GCSE in Natural History would introduce young people to the wonder of nature wherever they live and will enable them to connect their local wildlife with the wider world, tying us together and forming bonds.
The world needs naturalists as never before. We need young people to go into the world and make the right decisions for the future, to make sure other life on earth is not compromised or destroyed by our actions.
As the world’s population heads towards 10 billion, it is vital we plan the future with nature in mind as well as people. A GCSE in Natural History would help provide the next generation with the skills they need to make this world a much more vibrant and life-enhancing place for all life on earth.
Want to keep up to date with all the latest about OCR natural history? Sign up for email updates or follow #GCSENaturalHistory on Twitter. If want to find out more or have a question about our proposed GCSE Natural History qualification? Check out our Natural history hub page or contact us at: NaturalHistory@ocr.org.uk.
Mary Colwell is a producer and writer specialising in natural history and the environment. Her articles have appeared in The Guardian, BBC Wildlife Magazine, The Tablet, Country Life and many other publications. She has made documentaries for the BBC Natural History Unit in both TV and radio. She has published two books: John Muir – The Scotsman who saved America’s wild places in 2014, by Lion Hudson, and Curlew Moon in April 2018, by William Collins. Her latest book on our relationship with predators in the UK is due out in 2021. In 2009 she won a Sony Radio Academy Gold award and in October 2017 she was awarded the Dilys Breese Medal by the BTO for outstanding science communication, in 2018, the David Bellamy Award from the Gamekeepers Association for her conservation work on curlews and in 2019, the WWT Marsh Award for Conservation. She was cited in the top 30 most influential conservationists in the UK by BBC Wildlife Magazine.