Ellie Harrison: How nature can help us cope in challenging times

The nationwide lockdown has been hard on us all. We instinctively gravitate to nature in times of crisis – the freedom of the wild provides a sense of calm, says Countryfile's Ellie Harrison.

Sherwood Forest

Jokes about loo roll got tired quite quickly. It did seem like a strange go-to survival purchase. But with mammalian high-speed metabolism, it was ready calories we were thinking of, and the inevitable aftermath. Amusing, too, was that we suddenly became bread-makers and keepers of chickens. Then, finally, when it looked as though this was going to take a while, there was a spike in seed sales. I’ve got clay soil and I know which friends have been stockpiling, so I didn’t bother.

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Weeks in, I’m still in a bad mood about it all. Early on, a poem went viral: “And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being…”

BBC Countryfile Presenter Ellie Harrison

It’s a sweet sentiment, but I’m still too grumpy to get on board with it. People are clearly better at adapting than me. Needing to learn the lesson, it was no surprise that I found it in nature. Out on a spring walk, a woodpecker drummed so noisily  that I thought it was a jackhammer; bird song – a lifetime’s learning – was clear enough for me to pick out individuals; and corvids squabbling at roost later that day were so blaring I thought it was a freight train. Nature is louder than ever. And in a right-headed moment, I’m grateful for it.

Natural freedom

Every day, I now have time to make a trip out into nature with my children. It makes me a little perkier. After every TV press briefing, there is the continuity of the seasons, the trees, the plants and the animals outside. When I’m in nature, I can calmly accept all this. I’m normally an optimist. But so much about the pandemic makes me sad. The fact that it’s here at all and has killed people. The wreckage of millions of livelihoods. The ease of soft totalitarianism. The judgements of the surveillance state. And stopping people going into nature, just when they needed it most. It was unfortunate that it was a sunny and busy day
on the hills. But people going out into national parks weren’t being selfish or thoughtless. They needed to get out. They could perfectly easily walk two metres away from other walkers.

The Common blue butterfly, Polyommatus icarus

Why should exercise only be around the block if driving to the wilds and walking into nature can still be done responsibly, at a distance from the next person? Those of us living in the countryside are quietly relieved to have a garden, nobody watching us and, if it comes to it, the chance to grow and hunt food. But what about everyone else?

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Let it be

In lockdown, we all need to feel the freedom of nature more than ever. We are animals of the land and we know that deeply in our hearts, especially when we don’t recognise the rest of our world. The most compliant among us need to relax our judgements of others. Let everyone be with nature. Let people barbecue in their garden. As long as nobody is hurting anyone. Let it be.