The COVID-19 pandemic impacted people around the world in different ways but a common strategy put in place by various countries was to put their inhabitants under lockdown. Being suddenly stuck inside and allowed out only for limited amounts of time somehow seem to have made people more aware of the important benefits of spending time in nature.
At a time of intense hardship and stress, being able to escape for a bit and enjoy nature ended up being a source of joy and happiness and many took up new nature-related hobbies such as jogging or bird-watching. We asked students from the University of Oxford to share their experience of nature during lockdown and a common thread emerged: turns out that spending time in nature or even just watching nature is a powerful tool for our wellbeing!
Martha: Slowing down in the countryside
“I spent lockdown with my family in the middle of the forest, off-grid. We became so acquainted with the stillness (or I suppose, ironically not so) and untapped beauty of this little bubble of Dorset countryside, that it was quite jarring to return to normal life in Bournemouth. I had many a cup of morning coffee outside watching deer quietly graze and pass through our garden. We even had a swarm of bees make a temporary home in our apple tree.”
Izzy: Rekindling a passion for foraging
“During lockdown, I found an opportunity to rekindle a big passion for foraging. Spring is often a perfect time for beginners to start foraging and learning about what’s around them to eat, for free! Spring allows most plants to start sprouting identifiable features and I found this to be the perfect time to start again and spare time with lockdown made it even more accessible.
I bought two ID books for the UK and went out on a few short walks to see what I could start to identify, sooner or later I was making full meals with mushroom finds and coastal foraging for sea beet and rock samphire. To learn what I couldn’t eat and plants that had poisonous look-a-likes before I started picking and bringing them home was an important stage to being able to start eating for free!”
Isobel: Identifying and keeping bugs
“I have gotten really into insect and bug identification/keeping! One day, I found a caterpillar of an invasive boxwood moth and photographed its journey into a chrysalis and then documented it hatching into a moth. Most excitingly, my sister and I spent tons of time looking for fossils on the banks of the Thames and I noticed lots of snails and little shrimp looking things (which turns out are actually called amphipods).
Finally, I also bought painted lady butterflies. The chrysalises shake when you transport them into their netted hatching enclosure because they sense the movement and think they are in danger! Somehow, it is super weird but also quite cool because they get so loud and intense.”
Hope: Listening to the birds
“When I saw and heard the skylark flying I heard the classical music piece The Lark Ascending which mimics the sounds of skylarks as they rise and fall in the sky.”
Sid: Wild swimming
“Though I have lived in Oxford now for nearly five years, it has only been in these past months of lockdown that I have developed a deep and unexpected love for Port Meadow and its environs. In the meadow itself, I have been swimming every day in July in its gently winding river.
Swimming here has a beautiful and healing quality; each day I enter the river with some restless energy that has been locked inside me but which I cannot see, and each day the river holds me and soothes me in its refreshing and magical embrace. Through this more intimate encounter with the natural world around Oxford, I have felt a new and nourishing connection with the city and its nature.”
Lindsey: Cycling in nature
“I live in a rural place and have really relished the opportunity to explore my area properly on my bike. With the glorious sun in early lockdown, I managed to see many beautiful sights. Dandelion fields, birch forests and a mother ducks with her ducklings on the stream! Though my favourite is to cycle to the top of a large hill near me and see for miles around. Birds of prey frequent this area and I always manage to spot one every time I go.
Over lockdown, I’m not sure whether it was because there were less hustle and bustle from humans or because we had more time to notice the natural beauty around us, (or perhaps both!) but wildlife appeared to me to be utterly thriving. Part of me doesn’t want to return to ‘normality’ so to say. Surely we had a taste of what our new normal could be? The great outdoors has well and truly got me through lockdown.”
All the testimonies were collated by Lindsey Thompson.