‘Please enter your WordPress password’, said the on-screen message when I attempted to begin this week’s bloggage instalment. Oh no. Please no. It never normally asks me for that. What could the password possibly be? I set about trying a scattergun mix of words – names of birds, favourite bands, former car number plates, locomotives I remember from my childhood (which are a great source of name-and-number combos, if like me you’re nerdy enough to remember them); all kinds of random stuff. Surprisingly enough, none of them worked.
Oh well, yet another forgotten password to reset then. It’ll be exactly the same situation when I next have to pay my electricity bill, or top up my mobile phone, or try and book some leave from work. ‘The username or password you have entered is incorrect’. Maybe I ought to write these things down – though of course this is the one thing we’re repeatedly and emphatically told never to do. Sigh.
I must confess that my relationship with technology is a fractious one at the best of times. In some ways, maintaining this blog is like a form of exposure therapy, making me front up to my electronic phobias. Life in the 21st century, of course, is increasingly and unavoidably bound to technology. Many (most?) of us spend our working lives at a screen, or on the phone, or both. Home lives are no different, with endless gadgets and gizmos to make every aspect of our hectic lives easier and better (in theory at least). Your phone knows every last detail of your life, your car practically drives itself, and even the washing machine sings a song and sends you a message when it’s finished its spin cycle. Fifty years ago this was the stuff of sci-fi, and yet here we are. Love it or loathe it – and I know people on both sides of that divide – technology is here to stay.
Technology has helped to give humanity a huge amount of power and influence over Planet Earth. With such great power, of course, comes great responsibility, and balancing these things is is the foremost challenge of our time. In the current age, our relationship with the world in which we live can be difficult for us, as individuals, to reconcile. How we live our lives, and the choices we make on a daily basis – even down to the really small stuff – will have an effect on the planet, its lands and seas, its atmosphere, its climate, its biological diversity and not least upon our fellow humans.
Most of us (I hope, speaking as an eternal optimist) try and do our best to be considerate. But it’s all so complicated. The seemingly intractable tangle of issues and problems that face the world are difficult for most of us to get our heads around, and result in a great deal of anguish, stress and mental unrest. This is something that isn’t easily fixed by recourse to electronic gadgetry.
Fair enough Daryl, but you’ve gone off-piste a bit here – what’s all this got to do with Forvie? Well, quite a bit actually. Nature reserves – or any wild places for that matter – are crucially important in today’s world not just for the habitats and wildlife they support, but also as a refuge for people. Forvie is a fine example. Its starkly beautiful landscapes and vast skies are balm for the soul, a perfect antidote to the breakneck pace and hideous complexity of the man-made world of 2023. A walk through the dunes or along the estuary on a clear winter’s day – or even in a force eight and sideways rain – has a restorative effect far beyond the burning-off of a few excess Christmas calories. This is one of the ways in which nature is of critical importance for us – the simple pleasures of a sunrise, a crisp winter’s morning, a skein of geese, the first wild flower of spring.
I suppose there is an amusing irony here. The natural world is so complex that we’re only just beginning to understand how some of it works. Everything within it is linked to everything else, like a vast machine with billions of different components; our knowledge of it barely scratches the surface really. Last Monday I gave an illustrated talk to the Collieston and Slains SWRI, and during my introduction I explained that I had worked at Forvie for sixteen years and was only just starting to get to know the place – absolutely true. But while nature itself is inherently and immensely complex, our enjoyment of it is one of life’s simplest pleasures of all.
One of the most brilliant aspects to this is that it’s free of charge. It doesn’t matter who you are, or where you live, or how much money you have. Nature is a great leveller because it belongs to – and is accessible by – each one of us. You don’t need to be able to climb a mountain, or take a three-week cruise to Alaska, or fly to the Serengeti, to appreciate nature. It’s all around us – it’s just a case of taking the time to tune into it.
You don’t even have to know anything about it. Yes, I like to put names to the things that I see while I’m out and about in nature, and have a decent(ish) knowledge of some species groups at least. And while this gives me a great deal of pleasure, it certainly isn’t essential to appreciating nature: expertise and enjoyment are two different disciplines. You don’t need the former in order to have the latter.
In conclusion, nature can provide us with exactly the kind of uncomplicated and guilt-free pleasures that at times we all need – a safety valve to relieve the pressures and complexities of 21st-century life. There are many compelling reasons for conserving what’s left of the natural world, and not least because our own mental and physical wellbeing is bound up with its fate.
For now at least, nature is there for all of us to enjoy and appreciate – and best of all, you don’t need a password.