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A personal reflection on nature conservation

As part of Climate Action Newcastle’s Nature Conservation blog series, one of our members, Mima Cattan, takes us on her journey from first connecting to nature to realising her place in conservation and finally sharing that with her children and grandchildren.

When I contemplated why nature conservation mattered to me, I realised that first I had to answer the question why nature mattered to me. In my earliest memories I was one with nature and nature was one with me. It enveloped me, the sounds, the smells, the tastes, the light and colours and what it felt like. Little by little features started appearing: the sound of trees and the colours of small flowers in the summer, the taste of berries, the smell of the sea and the feeling of earth under my feet. I watched ants scuttling among pine needles, listened to gulls calling above my head and was mesmerised by fish I could see swimming effortlessly among the seaweed. I was immensely curious about everything in nature but I was also awed by the beauty of everything within it. I collected seashells and flowers and was taught that adders should not be stroked! I used my parents’ old binoculars to watch birds going about their lives. The first time I watched an early morning Black grouse lek on a remote skerry I was so gripped by the spectacle that I completely forgot how cold I was. Nature could be tranquil and make me happy, but it could also frighten and confuse.

My children and grandchildren describe very similar feelings and thoughts about nature. My children talk about a connection with nature, which came with having the freedom to explore the natural environment around them when they were young. There were trees, flowers and wild animals to marvel at, but also to take care of. Nature created adventures; a fallen tree became a maze, a flower meadow a place to hide in, a rocky shore turned into a new country. Smells of sunshine, hay and wet forests bring happy memories. These experiences shaped their adult outlook on why nature and nature conservation matter to them. They are awed by how nature can adapt to rapidly changing circumstances, but they also express concern that future generations risk identifying nature with a few zoos, botanical gardens and manmade nature parks.

My young granddaughters have an awareness of environmental destruction that I didn’t have as a child. Similar to my experiences, however, trees, flowers and the colour green in nature make them feel excited and happy. When they talk about nature they picture a symbiosis between plants and animals. And, consequently they feel very sad and angry about what they see happening around them: trees being cut, forests destroyed and animals losing their homes.

Nature conservation became important to me the day I grasped that everything in nature, including us, was connected, just as my children and grandchildren have understood. Nature isn’t just our playground, a punch bag or a bottomless resource. It responds, withdraws or disappears depending on how it is treated. The lek I observed as a child has gone as a result of increased human disturbance, just like the beautiful Wintergreen growing next to a path I walked daily in the summer months. But it wasn’t just that one or two single species disappeared. These were indicators that something was amiss. I became involved in small scale nature conservation campaigns and initiatives mainly around habitat loss. Habitat loss potentially meant a decline in biodiversity, as I had already seen and my granddaughters now describe. I’ve written letters, signed petitions, contributed to environmental surveys and planted trees. I don’t know what difference these small contributions have made, but I do know that I couldn’t stand by and do nothing.

Over the years I have seen many excellent nature conservation initiatives driven by individuals and organisations, which give hope for the future. If I had to pick one, which is nature conservation at its best, it would be the Border Mires restoration and protection project, initiated by Angus Lunn some 50 years ago, and led by the Northumberland Wildlife Trust. It is part of a long-term, multi-faceted scheme across the UK, creating new wildlife habitats and leading to improved water control and increased biodiversity. But, most importantly, peatlands are the UK’s largest on-land store of carbon and therefore the Border Mires project is of immense value for the future as a piece in the climate crisis jigsaw.

When I think about my granddaughters and future generations, I want them to continue to feel happiness in nature among trees and flowers. I want them to sense the richness and beauty of nature without value judgements. That is why nature conservation matters to me.

Mima Cattan

Dedicated CAN member and active member of the Natural History Society of Northumbria

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