By Cain Scrimgeour
Separation has been mentioned a few times in this conservation - the separation of human and nature, the separation of the countryside and ‘townies’, the separation of green space and urban environments, and the separation of people. Over the last few years we’ve found a separation between love (or attachment) and awareness.
Awareness is not a word I generally like to use, but it’s fitting; the difference between attachment to wildlife and awareness of it has been a well studied phenomenon. Since 2017, Wild Intrigue has taken hundreds of people out into the ‘wilds’, be that urban green-spaces, nature friendly farms or nature reserves. We don’t often focus on the charismatic, the rare, the honeypot sites or the star species, instead we focus on things that are accessible, things that are literally part of our daily lives as naturalists and outdoors people. Bats, moths, garden wildlife, Kittiwakes (in Newcastle City), are almost our staple.
Of all the species, we run more Bat Safaris than anything else, from Newcastle’s City Centre to the forests of Kielder, and one thing that is striking, more often than not, is many people have never seen a bat, never mind heard one. I remember on late July evenings, watching a single Common Pipistrelle hawk the lamppost outside my childhood window in urban Whitley Bay. I only ever seen one, but like clockwork the same thing could be seen happening every year. We’ve found Common and Soprano Pipistrelles hunting above boomboxes blaring out reggae music in the Ouseburn Valley of Newcastle City, and countless other urban (and rural environments). It’s not that these wonders of the night aren’t accessible, or that people don’t have an intrigue for them (proven by people paying to attend our events), it’s that people aren’t aware of them.
Point one out to a group of 20 people and the surprise kicks in: "They’re so small”, “Can they see us?”, “Woah that one came so close”, “Will it land in my hair?” we often hear. Give people a detector and watch their faces as they hear a bat echolocate for the first time and you’re in a totally different ball game; you can actually see that ‘spark’ materialising on their faces. Excitement first (we’ve actually had a noise complaint from the sound of people “oohing” and “ahhing” at hearing their first bats), then the intrigue that follows: “What do they eat?", “How many insects do they need to catch?”, “Where do they go in the winter?”, “How many species do we have in the UK?”, “How can I help the bats in my garden?”.
Intrigue turns to awareness, and finally love.
I can recount this tale with many of our ‘common’ species, and I’m not speaking of only young people; we’ve introduced people in their later years to their first bat, Kingfisher, or Elephant Hawkmoth.
We’ve not done anything new, we’ve only repackaged what countless other naturalists have done before us.
My question is, how do we repackage these conversations we are having here to make them accessible and relevant to everyone?