Reconnecting with nature

21 year old student Lucy Benniston tells us all about her experience with 30 Days Wild and how it has helped her reconnect with nature at her local spot.

Despite this being the sixth annual 30 days wild campaign; this year is the first time I have taken part. I have always been interested in nature, yet being a student has meant that actively taking part has had to sit on the back burner.

This all changed last year, when I decided to undertake my undergraduate dissertation on the woodland birds living in forests established on reclaimed colliery and opencast sites in the coalfields of Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. My interest remained firmly on birds until lockdown – Spring started and I became engrossed in the likes of insects and wildflowers too.

After seeing the 30 Days Wild campaign advertised on social media, I knew it was something I wanted to get involved in. As lockdown meant we were all restricted to our homes and local areas I saw this as the perfect opportunity to reignite my love for nature.

Throughout the month I have been visiting my local patch – a reclaimed opencast site boasting young woodland, grassland, settling ponds and scrub – and attempting to record as many species in the area as I can – ranging from the large crack willow trees of the neighbouring Carr woodland to the tiny but beautiful smooth tare flowers hiding amongst the grass. I’ve been using the iNaturalist app to help identify and track my records, however a diary and identification books would work just as well.

My motivation to do this was twofold – a personal goal to improve my identification skills, and also to help identify any rare species that may be living in the area that the local Wildlife Trust ought to be notified of.

So far I have identified approximately 300 species, and during the length of June and I have added a few more bird species to the list I had been compiling since the beginning of the year for the area (Currently standing at 67 – including 14 amber and 11 red listed species according to the RSPB website – and 25 species of butterfly and moth). Hopefully, these numbers will continue to increase over the summer as migrating species continue to arrive and more wildflowers appear in the grassland habitats.

(C) Lucy Benniston

(C) Lucy Benniston

Some of my favourite finds have been species of butterfly - dingy skipper, small copper and the beautiful green hairstreak, which all appeared to enjoy the meadow buttercups and ragged-robin towards the beginning of the month.

Another treat has been the enigmatic grass vetchling, which produces beautiful fuchsia flowers similar to the sweet peas with which its shares its genus. The tiny flowers can be seen for a few days each before the plant disappears, camouflaging into the swathes of grass.

In addition to recording species, as a part of the campaign I have also been setting daily tasks for myself both in my local patch and at home. This has included things as simple as sowing wildflower seeds into a ‘wild patch’ at the bottom of the garden, cleaning the bird bath and feeders to keep feathered visitors healthy and watching bees enjoy the flowering holly in the garden border.

green hairstreak

(C) Lucy Benniston

As an artist, drawing some of my favourite birds and flowers has also helped me engage with nature when the weather perhaps isn’t quite as favourable. A recent daily challenge I set myself was to attempt to count how many marsh orchids there were in my local patch – of which I can safely say there are at least 400!

Each activity, no matter how small, connects us to nature and encourages us to look after what we have. During 30 Days Wild, I have educated myself on my local area and will continue to do so to further my understanding of its habitats and wildlife. Taking part has also renewed my passion for nature in the long-term, and I hope that, as lockdown begins to lift, I will be able to take part in conservation activities on my local patch – such as clearing litter, and also at my local Wildlife Trust reserve, to help protect the areas I have come to love.

If you like the sound of 30 days wild there are plenty of prompts on the Wildlife Trusts’ websites and social media platforms – its never too late to get involved!

You can see more of what Lucy is getting up to here.