To get your own copy of the DNA Series, click on the image above to go to my web site...

Alex Douglas-Kane shares her experiences and understanding of Discover Nature Awareness

Sunday, 18 March 2012

The jigsaw puzzle

The jigsaw puzzle only has the straight edges on the outside and inside, the pieces are all over the place and just as in nature there are no straight edges and yet all the pieces fit together and work in harmony with each other.

However, our modern world has many straight edges, buildings, roads, fields, bridges; in fact a friend of mine shared with me his experience from the other day. He was walking over a bridge that spanned the local estuary, he stopped to look out.

He told me that when he looked out at nature the word harmony came to him and when he turned and looked towards the town he saw the church and the word disharmony came to him. When we take the time to see how our society is functioning we see nothing but problems the kids are in disarray, is it because straight edges are being applied to them, be it through the law, the lack of true guidance, don't do this, don't do that, you can only play conkers if you wear a hat, gloves and goggles, don't let your children climb that tree in school in fact we will replace it with a plastic one and put a soft mat under it, where will it end.

As a child my mother would say to me when I was bored "go out and play" and I would not see her until it was nearly dark time, when we go into nature it all changes, everything becomes an adventure as a child and as an adult. I was walking with Merlin (my European Eagle Owl) one day along the estuary during that time around twenty people stopped to talk to me about Merlin as I watched them I could see that Merlin by just being who he is invited lots of questions, people were smiling, they took pictures why, perhaps because they wanted to take a part of nature home with them. They wanted to stroke him and as they walked away I could hear them chatting with excitement, the children were telling their parents about how they stroked Merlin and what that felt like.

Then the next day I heard from someone that the day before someone had phoned in to the local radio station to tell the programme about how they encountered a man walking his eagle owl along the estuary and how nice that was to experience.

Who knows what concentric rings were sent out as a result of their experiences with Merlin, with Nature, perhaps they told their friends and shared their photos with family on Facebook, who knows all I know is that we belong in nature and I am very aware about how powerful she is to our health and well being.

I will leave you with this thought... "Go out and Play" take your kids, your friends, your family but most of all take yourself.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Bird Language is it changing?

Over the years I have read about bird language and how it is changing. Researchers have over the years been investigating into the regional accents many birds seem to have and it has even been said that city birds are or have changed their song so as to be heard over the noise pollution of the traffic. As a keen birder I have always been aware of minor differences between the birds in the various regions here I the UK.

However, something took place the other weekend that was completely new to me, in fact I have slowly been aware in recent times that things are not quite the same as before. I was teaching on a tracking course for a friend and while out doing one of the tracking exercises I heard a bird directly above me. I did not recognise the song so I looked up to see what it was and to my complete surprise I was looking at a Great Tit singing a song that I have never heard them sing before, it could have been a song from an African bird but as far as I am aware Tits do not mimic other birds not like Jays or Warblers for example.

So , I made a mental note of this and then the next morning in the same wood I heard another bird this time it was a blackbird whose song was partially different from the norm. And just this weekend I was on the coast at Penzance working with another friend on a Natural Awareness exercise and my attention was drawn to a Rock Pipit who did not sound like a Rock Pipit to me.

So what is going on here? Well I figure one of several things, either the birds really are changing their song, perhaps in response to the changing times that we find ourselves in or my hearing is changing with my age and I am now picking up on sounds that I was unable to detect before?

Picture: Male Great Tit

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Spring Watch

Over the last few days I have become acutely aware of our birds and their song. I have come to realise how much I have missed the uniqueness of our birds. Having travelled throughout the world to see as many birds as I can, and maybe this is the Alchemist (Paulo Coelho) coming out in me, nothing can replace the sound of the skylark high up in our sky, it always reminds me of lovely spring days with a fresh breeze blowing, or the drumming of the Great-spotted Woodpecker in the distance even the chatting of our Magpies.

When I look at why the answer is simple they all come with a memory of a distant past, an association, reminding me of places and experiences I have had as a child, like my first ever Green Woodpecker I can still see it on the lawn at boarding school in Gloucestershire while I had to sit and eat them school dinners.

Sure the birds from far of countries have memories as well, but dare I say there is not really an emotional attachment to them that gives you a sense of PLACE.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Letter from a student...

Here is a letter from a friend who attended one of my courses, I really liked what he had to say about his nephew and ADHD. When I was a lad I was labelled Maladjusted maybe that was the forerunner to ADHD who knows. What I do know is society likes to label and yet if we just paid attention to each person learning needs we would have more people in work and a much better society because the children would rightly be learning from their mentors according to their needs, thus placing them in a position to serve others in our society. Just my opinion, it may not be yours?


Hi Geoff,

“… I was chatting to a friend of mine who is a forest school instructor and she is doing some "In the woods social work" with some kids with minor social issues. I found myself referring her to your website/blog. I have since left civil engineering and am now studying environmental conservation in Bangor (North Wales) - what a lovely place! This conversation with her reminded me of you and I thought I’d say "Hi".

My brain started spinning thinking about all the possibilities of "Natural Awareness". Ecosystem services (the woods used as a 'valuable' classroom), social adjustments, behavioural issues and addiction issues. Then I started thinking if this is an area that would be of interest to both conservationists who may be able to "increase the value of the land" by its use as a psychological tool and also by the psychologists. It just happens that a few of my friends are studying psychology at Bangor too. Unfortunately, at present, I do not have the time to consider it further (lots of essays and reports due on Friday!) but I think it is another area of mutual, potential, interdisciplinary benefit. Perhaps even worth a seminar at some point ;)

Anyway, here is my little story that may interest you.

I have a young nephew. For his 8th birthday I took him on a 'Family Bushcraft' course. His dad has never been there or even seen him. No contact. Callum has been "diagnosed" (I put it in brackets as I do not believe it to be a diagnosis - more a social issue -i.e. modern society being no good for us) with ADHD. He misbehaved! And would not participate, was throwing sticks, bashing trees etc. I'm sure you know the score. I almost had to passive-fy him with his lifeline - er, I mean his Nintendo DS, but thought "bullocks".

I took him away from the group and we went tracking! I taught him basic tracking sills and we followed a badger trail to a set even the instructors didn’t know existed. We found a predated bird egg shell and some fresh deer prints. I promised him we would see the deer later. We went back to the group for tea time. I told the instructors what went on and they were keen to go "deer watching" as they trusted my ability to gauge a fresh trail. That evening we went to watch the deer. The instructor "Knew where to sit", I disagreed. So I took Callum a little further away (from them) but also closer to the trail. It got dark and after 45mins Callum was getting a touch restless. I promised him we wouldn't be much longer.

I heard a noise. I said to Callum, "I think something is coming - stay still and quiet". After a few minutes I said to Callum "VERY slowly turn around and look behind us", there was a Muntjac standing on the trail about 5ft away from us. It looked at us and carried on undisturbed. We were the only two to see the deer. On the way back I explained to him about the rod and cone receptors in your eyes and why we do not need torches. The other kids were waving torches and making a racket. Callum said to them "you should be quiet, you will disturb the deer and turn your torches off or your rods will stop working". They were all stumped! We returned to the fire, Callum was well behaved and told his experience to the group. He mentioned how you should be quiet and still and be part of the nature then the deer aren't scared of you. He then proceeded to explain how amazing the fire was with all of its many colours and how much better than the DS this was.

The next day Callum was well behaved and integrated with the group. The other children were fatiguing and becoming troublesome, Callum was as good as gold! I have since taught him how to stalk, tracked further with him (he stalked a fallow deer to about 10ft) and how to shoot an air rifle. He wants to go bow hunting with me too. I have told him I will take him if he learns to shoot a bow and also after my degree.

He behaves very differently around me now.

Just a little story I thought you may appreciate. One, that makes me smile. I now seem to have written quite a lot. Ha ha, probably an essay 'avoidance' tool.

How are things with you? I like your blog. Is the nature awareness going well? I also like your little video on "Action indicators vs pressure releases" very diplomatic and spot on, in my opinion...”

I hope all is well.


Martyn Smith

Monday, 5 March 2012

Natural Thinking 1st edition Report for the RSPB Dr William Bird

Natural Thinking 1st edition Report for the RSPB Dr William Bird
I have posted the introduction to this report as I believe it has far reaching implications for the future of Nature Therapy within the UK, you can read the full report on my articles page…

The Value of the Natural Environment
This report, commissioned by the RSPB, looks at the evidence linking wildlife-rich areas and green space with mental health. Past generations have intuitively understood this relationship, perhaps better than we do, yet the evidence needed to quantify the health value of the natural environment is still evolving.

It is a paradox that as a society we find it unacceptable to take wild animals to be kept in captivity, yet older people in residential care homes can stay indoors for years with no access to the stimulation of the outside world. We spend millions to create ideal conditions for our garden plants balancing the right soil with the correct amount of shade and the right moisture, yet we allow our children to grow up in a hostile urban wilderness with concrete walkways, heavy traffic and no contact with nature.
Logic would suggest that after 10,000 generations having to survive in a natural environment, human evolution would have programmed our genes to perform best in a favoured natural environment of water, shelter, food and safety. By the same logic, it would be surprising if the rapid disconnection of humans from nature in just a few generations did not cause some difficulty to adapt to this new environment. EO Wilson, who proposes the Biophilia hypothesis, says that ‘beauty is in the eye of the gene’; a deep genetic sequence may be hard to erase despite our efforts to be technically independent from nature and the natural environment.

Humans are a species with as much need for the natural environment as any other. However, we are also a social species that thrives in towns and cities and has prospered with the use of technology. But neither technology nor cities can replace our need for the natural environment. We have to keep a balance. By disconnecting from our natural environment, we have become strangers to the natural world: our own world. This has challenged our sense of identity and in some more subtle ways has had a significant affect on our mental health.

This report is one step to bring together the evidence in this area of mental health. It is a start, but much more rigorous data is required if we are to quantify the strength of this effect and measure which aspects of mental health are benefited. It suggests that contact with the natural environment may offer considerable mental health benefits and have a positive effect on communities. In essence, this means that the natural environment has a quantifiable health value.

With a dearth of solutions for major problems such as obesity, inactivity, stress and antisocial behaviour, which governments are struggling to solve, the value of the natural environment needs to be understood, quantified and then acted upon. To ignore these findings may result in further loss of natural green space that will never be recovered and so deprive future generations of a “natural health service”.
Dr William Bird, June 2007

Sunday, 4 March 2012

He felt the need to protect her...

While running a natural awareness session for my friend Thomas on his year course, it was decided that we would play the game 'Animal Tag'. This involves me watching people within the circle closely and when I sense the right moment I choose someone to take on the role of an animal.

At one point I decided to choose a woman to play the part of a male tiger and another person was chosen to be a hunter closing in for the kill. As the group watched with interest as the tiger who was blindfolded responded to the silent movements of the hunter, clearly demonstrating that she was picking up on the hunters intentions by moving away from him but also often turning to face in the direction of where the danger was coming from.
Tiger Picures

A few minutes later I approached another member of the group in the circle and I asked him to take on the role of a male tiger, he was also blindfolded and he was unaware as was the rest of the group the roles I had assigned to the others.

At first he stood still for a short period of time as if trying to get a sense of where he was and what was taking place. Then, slowly he moved by this time the other two players had also moved so the second tiger had no real idea where the other players where within the circle.

He continued to move forward and at one point he stood between the first tiger and the hunter. At the end of the game we did a short process. This involves me asking the group what they saw and did they draw from the visual information they were receiving, when I do this I always find it amazing even thought it should no longer be the case, how much the group have sensed what was taking place. This I believe is because by now they have invested in the game and there becomes also and emotional connection between them.

The tiger tiger when asked what was going on for him, he replied. I just had a sense that I needed to protect, if fact it was quite powerful and at the point when he stopped between the hunter and the tiger we concluded this was where the strongest feeling was for him.

Then once this process is over I then ask each player to disclose to the group what their role was, before that they are not allowed to say. When this happened there were smiles all round as people put the final pieces together and also gasps of amazement that the third player had connected with the first player as a pair of tigers in a relationship with each other.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Watch Out... Is what the Jays had to say.

Whilst bird watching in Thailand. I stayed at the Nam Nao National Park. One day I decided to take one of the longer trails to see if I could find some elephants as I had been told they were in the local area and if I was very lucky maybe I would also catch a glimpse of a tiger.

As I crossed a clearing heading for some high ground, I had an image in my mind of a tiger walking towards me, did this mean that a tiger had passed down this very trail some hours earlier or was it a vision of what was to come? Either way I felt very excited by the prospect of both but more of the latter. As I approached the high ground which leads into dense undergrowth I heard a flock of Jays causing a real commotion this caused me to stop, I was very aware that they were warning of potential danger close by.

As I looked down the trail and into the undergrowth, suddenly I heard an almighty crash and my heart missed a few beats. My immediate thought was that the sound had been made by an elephant, so I waited to see if it would appear around the bend of the trail, nothing came then I began to think perhaps it was a tiger charging though the undergrowth after some deer or something, my heart raced even more, what would I do if it was a tiger?

After a while the Jays began to settle down at which point I felt it was ok to move forward to investigate what the noise was, I soon discovered a very large branch some twenty meters long by about one meter thick laying on top of a clump of large bamboo. I realised had the Jays not kicked off, the time it would have taken me to walk from the ridge to this very spot, would have been around the same time this tree sized branch had crashed down, I would have been if not under it certainly very close to where it had landed.

I realised the Jays had saved me from some serious injuries at the very least or even from death itself.