In 2007, Dr. William Bird produced a report for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds named ‘Natural Thinking’, which explored the links between ‘the natural environment, biodiversity and mental health’. In this fantastic and fascinating report, one of the themes that Dr. Bird explores is that of ‘restorative environments’ – places that are the most likely to help restore people who are fatigued from stress. He also explores the features of these environments that give them restorative qualities and it was when I looked at these features that I recognised a correlation between them and my patch. His list of restorative features reads as; “verdant plants, calm or slow moving water, spatial openness, park-like or savannah-like properties, unthreatening wildlife and sense of security.”
How many of the places that I visit for birding fulfil this list of features? How many of the places that YOU visit for birding fulfil this list of features? I feel fairly certain that all of them do in some way. Take Strumpshaw Fen RSPB reserve that I mentioned earlier. Their website describes it as having the “full range of Broadland habitats and wildlife”, including; “reedbeds, woodlands and orchid-rich meadows”. The Fen also runs alongside one of Norfolk’s arterial rivers, the Yare; and the reedbeds are dissected by various areas of water.
So Strumpshaw fen, with its expansive, rolling views over vast reedbeds definitely gets a tick for spatial openness. This also lends itself to savannah-like properties, in the sense that the views are definitely expansive and peppered with shrubs and trees, standing like attentive sentinels up to their knees in whispering reeds. The blend of meadows, reedbeds and wet and dry woodland provides plenty of verdant plants and the adjoining river and scattered wetlands offer the calm or slow moving water. The extensive range of flora and fauna is definitely unthreatening and where else can you find a sense of belonging and security than a place where everybody present shares a similar ethos and reasoning for being there.
In a single paragraph, I have analysed just one local wildlife site that I’m familiar with and it’s evident that Dr. Bird’s observations on restorative environments can be applied to this particular place. After a few reconnaissance missions I started to realise that the patch I had chosen met most of these criteria for a restorative environment in some way. It had areas of spatial openness with savannah-like properties, the lake provided calm or slow moving water and this was surrounded with verdant plants. The wildlife was definitely unthreatening and finally, with the selected areas being part of a chalet park and lands managed by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust there was a definite sense of security.
As I reflected on these aspects, it became apparent to me that the birding locations recognised as the best offer more than just great opportunities for birders to find and observe a range of species. Through their own natural and often managed biodiversity they also create environments for stress recovery and restoration. On my Twitter page I asked what people thought a birding site would have to offer in order to be a restorative environment and most responses followed a similar vein; peace, calmness and space to think, feel and absorb your surroundings