Ellie Harrison: My guide for 2021

Countryfile's Ellie Harrison shares her nature-related resolutions for the New Year.

Ellie Harrison and Joe Porter at Westonbirt National Arboretum.

Instead of making unattainable resolutions, this new year I’m planning to appreciate nature anew.

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I like rituals and I like life coaching. So every year around this time I head out for a curry with family members of my generation for our annual Objective Setting. No ‘New Year’s resolutions’ for us – they’re not rigorous enough. Our Babber brings last year’s notebook and we score ourselves on our best-laid plans. I’m always at the bottom and Our Kid always does the best, mainly because he plans to “pay off my credit card” with £150 outstanding on it and I plan to “write a best-selling novel, start and run a charity, lose half a stone and build my dream house”. My brother-in-law still hasn’t left the job that he hates all these years later, no matter how many times I’ve offered to call his boss myself.

It’s all supposed to work because we use the SMART method (specific, measurable, attainable etc.), we’re accountable to each other and because we have three courses over which to discuss how we’ll support each other. It is progress, albeit at a pace we can’t easily detect. I suspect the notebooks will increase in emotional value as the years go by: like so much in life, we always overestimate how much we can do in a year and underestimate how much we achieve in 10.

So for this new-year edition of the magazine, I began to pull together some nature-related traditional resolutions for the year ahead, like “make a date to watch the sunset” and “plant a tree every week”, before acknowledging that my track record wasn’t really up to much. So instead, I began to look back at my 10 years exploring country life across the UK to come up with my own guide to enjoying nature this year.

1. Make true conversation with the people who work with the land.

For me, the human understanding has been easily as uplifting as the landscape itself. Of course, it is set up that I happen across the head of the National Trust on a drystone wall at the top of a moor, but even in normal life, the people are there. In fact, without a camera and microphone they are less guarded. My best conversations have always been off camera, often not relevant to the story we’re filming. Like the foreman of a wood mill who had moved away from a drug problem during school years and spent his young years carving small sculptures on the side of a road, living in a freezing caravan before finding paid work; or the rescue team’s tales from the mountainside, always spoken compassionately and never in judgement (even if someone was in flip-flops on Cairngorm); or the gamekeeper at Sandringham who believed in being led by science and finding room for every species. Listen well and be grateful for the work they do, nearly always poorly paid or voluntary.

A to Z of mindfulness in nature

We look at the various ways that nature and the countryside can be used to help improve physical and mental wellbeing in our mindfulness guide.

 

2. Be in the season of this day.

Each one a different tinge on the last, the seasons move through by the sunrise and sunset, not the financial quarter.

3. Walk the paths trod by our ancestors to keep them open.

We have our favourites but lockdown encouraged us to find new routes. Ordnance Survey has an app to help you discover new trails.

4. Find ways to interact with the land.

Don’t just look at it: get in the water, sit and listen and touch it. Be alert in either your eyes, ears, fingertips or your nose at any one time. My favourite memories are full of these interactions: swimming with seals on the Farne Islands, cycling on Bealach Na Bà and practicing qi gong in Lineover Wood.

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5. You don’t have to identify it to appreciate it.

There isn’t a person alive who can tell you the name of every plant and animal. We are all creatures of the land, we understand it and feel its beauty deep in our psyche. It doesn’t need words to enrich it.