16 wild resolutions for 2015

Become a better naturalist with these positive resolutions for 2015. 

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The BBC Wildlife team joined a garden bioblitz.

While others are giving up things, making promises to avoid and abstain, why not take a totally different approach?

Here are 16 positive resolutions to inspire you to discover, learn, experience, explore and uncover.

Pick any one of these and you’re guaranteed to enhance your understanding of wildlife, your skills as a naturalist and your enjoyment of nature. 

1. Dig a pond

“Learning about wildlife begins in your back yard. If you want to bring more species to your garden then the recipe is simple: just add water,” says Mike Dilger, wildlife expert for BBC One’s The One Show. “I dug a hole, put in a liner, added water – and within 24 hours I had my first pond skaters. By the end of the summer I had seen six species of dragon- and damselfly, and recorded a huge number of birds and mammals coming to the pond – it’s a source of food as well as water.

“A pond punches above its weight in terms of conservation, too. More UK frogs are now breeding in garden ponds, because the water is unpolluted, unlike many village and farm ponds. Digging one is the most effective step each of us can take to help local wildlife.”

2. Pass on your skills

Inspiring others to learn about nature – volunteering for a reserve or giving a talk to a local school or youth group, for example – can be rewarding in many ways. “Through my work with Buglife, I often take groups out on bug walks and pond-dipping days,” says the charity’s vice-president Alan Stubbs. “Obviously, it’s a way to raise the profile of invertebrates and the importance of habitats. But it’s personally very rewarding, too.”

“I am passionate about the need to develop people’s ability to identify species,” Alan continues. “The education system does very little fieldwork these days; you can study up to degree level without having seen a whole animal. Being able to identify wildlife is a vital practical underpinning of conservation work – a skill I think is being lost, and one that I dearly want to promote.” 

3. Close your eyes

“Get in the habit of closing your eyes and writing down the bird calls and songs you hear phonetically,” says BBC Wildlife features editor Ben Hoare. “Most field guides include a description of each bird’s sounds, but good birders have their own ways to remember each species’ distinctive vocalisations. Develop this skill and you’ll be able to identify birds before you see them.”

4. Focus on the detail 

Learning to draw the flora and fauna you see can have a major impact on your skills as a naturalist, according to botanical artist Julia Trickey.

“Most of us can identify well-known flowers and trees – but how much detail can we really recall?” asks Julia. “Observational drawing encourages you to look carefully at the world around you, getting into the detail – of flowers, for example: the number of petals, how they are arranged and the shape of the stem.”

“The act of drawing in a nature notebook demands close observation – and you don’t need technical skills, like those taught in the kind of courses I run,” Julia adds. “Give it a try. I promise that you will never look at a flower, leaf or fruit in the same way again.”

5. Get out at night

“Most people miss what happens after dark,” says photographer Eric Médard. “But there’s a lot going on: many mammals, moths and amphibians are nocturnal. Getting out at night forces you to use your other senses, as I discovered during forays in my native France – I learned to recognise the rustle of a salamander and the sound of a boar racing through the undergrowth. It’s so interesting to experience what is happening when most people are safely ensconced in their homes – there’s so much to learn.”

6. Map your local patch

“The map for my local area is a living document of the wildlife I’ve seen here,” says BBC Wildlife features editor Ben Hoare. “Maps show habitat, and give you an idea of what you might see. I overlay that with the wildlife I’ve spotted. It’s another way of recording and depicting my local patch that encourages me to observe and appreciate what’s around me.”

You can buy custom OS maps centred on your home address at www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/shop

7. Set up a camera-trap

Want to know what’s coming into your back garden? Set up a camera-trap to see wildlife in action. 

8. Explore somewhere new

There are so many wildlife encounters to enjoy in the UK,” says BBC Wildlife’s travel editor James Fair, “and they vary enormously around the country. To experience something totally new this year, consider booking a trip to somewhere you’ve never been.” Here are five of James’s suggestions for great – but lesser-known – wildlife-watching destinations.

  • Shiant Isles, Outer Hebrides These islands harbour incredible numbers of puffins, guillemots, razorbills and other seabirds. They are hard to get to, but the effort is definitely worthwhile. Read about them in the excellent book Sea Room, by Adam Nicolson.
  • Walton Backwaters, Essex This area was immortalised by Arthur Ransome in his book Secret Water, in which his Swallows and Amazons explored these channels and creeks. Here you’ll find grey and common seals, breeding avocets and little terns, plus wildfowl and waders in the winter.
  • Minchinhampton, Rodborough and Selsley Commons, Gloucestershire Overlooking the ‘Golden Valley’ of Stroud, these commons are good places to encounter skylarks, orchids and cowslips in the spring and swifts, swallows and house martins in the summer. Buzzards and kestrels soar, and red kites make rare appearances.
  • The Rhinogs, Snowdonia These rugged hills in mid-Snowdonia are bypassed by the crowds. Visit for the sense of space and peace rather than for wildlife – though there is the allure of wild goats.
  • Forest of Bowland, Lancashire This wild fell country has some of the tamest brown hares in Britain, plus breeding waders such as oystercatchers and curlews, and England’s last hen harriers.

9. Get involved in a local cause

Joining a conservation cause can give you more reasons to take an interest in your patch – and your involvement can have a massive impact, says hedgehog campaigner Hugh Warwick. “Suburbia is becoming the last refuge for many hedgehogs,” explains Hugh. “Recent studies have shown that a sustainable population of hedgehogs requires at least 32 individuals plus 90ha of connected land. So it’s essential that we get neighbours talking to each other and ensuring their gardens are linked via gaps in their fences.” The Hedgehog Street campaign recruits ‘Hedgehog Champions’ to muster local support, and advises on practical and straightforward ways of dealing with ’hog problems. So far, almost 30,000 households have signed up. www.hedgehogstreet.org

10. Start a nature journal

Want to understand the changing seasons and their effects on local wildlife in greater depth? Then start a nature journal, says zoologist Jules Howard. “I was a latecomer to keeping a journal,” he admits. “I started mine 10 years ago to record lists of the wildlife I was seeing on a long commute. It took me a year to recognise its real value as I started to notice the signs of the changing seasons – small indicators that you can compare each year, and that are noticeable only to you.”

“In this digital age, a blog offers a great way to store your nature notes,” Jules adds. “You can upload images directly from a smartphone, and you can search for specific entries. Remember that you don’t have to conform to any set ideas about what a journal should look like or include. If you make it personal and record the things in which you’re interested, you’re much more likely to keep it going for many years.”

11. Visit the Natural History Museum

At least once this year, indulge your interest in evolution, conservation, entomology – or, indeed, any other ‘ology’ – and head to London’s Natural History Museum. If possible, visit on a weekday, when the museum is quieter – school groups have usually moved on by the afternoon, but if you arrive early (doors open at 10am) you can devote more than seven hours to exploring the museum’s vast collections and exhibitions. Find out more at www.nhm.ac.uk

12. Go back to school 

Learn something new this year. There’s an array of wildlife courses and holidays around the UK, from local evening classes to field-studies centres. “The best way to learn about wildlife is to get out there and see it for yourself,” says Kevin Shaw, who runs wildlife tour company Heatherlea. “Do that alongside an expert and it’s guaranteed to accelerate your learning and enhance your enjoyment.”

5 course providers: 

  • Aigas This Scottish wildlife and field-studies centre runs photography, art and writing courses. www.aigas.co.uk
  • Field Studies Council Centres around the country offer courses. www.field-studies-council.org
  • Heatherlea Wildlife tours across Scotland and overseas. www.heatherlea.co.uk
  • People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) runs several training courses for conservation professionals and amateurs. www.ptes.org
  • Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust Nine WWT centres around the UK host a range of courses. www.wwt.org.uk

13. Build the ultimate wildlife library

There’s no shortage of transformative wildlife literature available. To get you started, here’s our choice of five key books that could change the way you see nature.

  • Feral By George Monbiot This exciting and exceptionally well-argued book examines ways to rewild and restore damaged ecosystems while reconnecting with nature.
  • Silent Spring by Rachel Carson This is the book credited with launching the American environmental movement. An undisputed classic.
  • The Amateur Naturalist by Gerald Durrell This classic book is a highly practical guide to developing your skills as a naturalist.
  • Tropical Nature by By Adrian Forsyth and Ken Miyata The focus is on rainforests, but this is essential reading for anybody who wants to understand basic ecology.
  • What has Nature Ever Done for us? by Tony Juniper Stories from the former Friends of the Earth stalwart reveal the value of nature and its contribution to our welfare.

14. Start a new obsession

Love birds? Start an obsession with grasshoppers. Comfortable identifying British butterflies? Why not transfer those skills to shield bugs? It worked for naturalist Mark Cocker, whose fascination with moths began when he set up a trap in his garden and recorded his local species.

“Specialism is important in natural history, but I think we get too linear – too obsessed with a single species,” explains Mark. “We fixate on expertise – on one area of wildlife – and overlook the importance of a simple wonder when looking at nature.”

Why not try something different every year? There are countless books and online resources to help you make 2015 your year of grasshoppers or bees, moths or shieldbugs, even fungi. Choose something new and you’ll develop your sense of wonder for what is around you.

Mark’s book Birds and People (RRP £40) is available from Vintage Publishing.

15. Don’t miss out – tune in

BBC iPlayer has transformed the way we watch and listen to natural-history broadcasting. It means you’re far less likely to miss the very best documentaries, and makes it easier to search through old programmes and dig out the best wildlife TV and radio. Guaranteed gems every week.

16. Be a citizen scientist 

Each year, hundreds of ‘citizen science’ research projects get members of the public collecting wildlife data. Taking part is a great way to develop field skills and discover something new about your patch. Here are three to consider for your first project.

  • Big Garden Birdwatch Spend an hour counting birds in your garden or local park. www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch/
  • Nature’s Calendar Run by the Woodland Trust, this survey looks at the impact of climate change on our wildlife. www.naturescalendar.org.uk
  • Big Butterfly Count This Butterfly Conservation project maps butterfly and moth numbers around the country. www.bigbutterflycount.org
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