“Nature is so central to our psychological and emotional health, that it’s almost impossible to realise good mental health for all without a greater connection to the natural world.”
Mental Health Foundation.
It can’t have escaped many people’s notice that the theme of last weeks’ Mental Health Awareness Week was nature, during which the Mental Health Foundation reported that 70% of UK adults said ‘being close to nature improved their mood’. This certainly resonated with me.
I work for a large corporate company, and through my job I have had the opportunity to train as a mental health first aider and helped set up the company’s Mental Health program. Talking about mental health and breaking down the stigma of mental illness is hugely important to me after I supported my husband through a long period of mental ill-health and hospitalisation.
Nature is also a passion of mine, and its importance in my own mental health became apparent following the death of my Dad 14 years ago. Struggling with grief and depression, I found immense relief when completely absorbed in nature; usually observing birds, listening to them and learning their songs. Through spending time in nature, finding comfort in the cyclical nature of life, I was able to find my way back to good mental health. Now, whenever I feel particularly stressed or sense a low mood creeping in, I get myself over to Warren Farm and spend time listening to the skylarks and yaffling woodpeckers and looking for kestrels. It never fails to revitalise me. Over the last four years I’ve benefitted from the knowledge and support of the EWG community on Facebook, or even better, joined a volunteering day.
At work, whilst planning the program for Mental Health Week an event with Sean seemed the perfect fit, and the response from the business was incredible. With more than 80 people joining the video call, Sean had a captive audience listening to him share his own story of mental health, from his career as a vet to how and why he created EWG. The response to Sean’s talk has been fantastic, with employees planning a nature garden and setting up volunteering days with EWG and other nature groups. My own team are desperate to join a bat walk (followed by a visit to the pub after 😉).
Thinking about the connection between good mental health and Nature has reminded me of how lucky I am to live in the Ealing borough with such amazing access to green spaces, and to have the EWG share their knowledge of the extraordinary biodiversity in the area, as well as offer a place where like-minded people can come together and share their love of nature.
At the mention of Zen, a Buddhist monk in search of enlightenment might come to mind. When I think of Zen, I think of an approach to photography, especially my own wildlife photography. For me, Zen is a state of mind. A state of quietness and stillness and contemplation when engaging with the natural world and finding beauty in all things. I try and remember that Zen photography is more about mindset than the subject matter.
I completely absorb myself in the process of photographing wildlife and nature and think of nothing else during the process. Time slips away like a flowing river. All that matters is the subject, the light and the creativity. It’s a way of meditation. A way of Zen. Nothing else seems to matter.
Look at the light. See how it forms the shapes, lines, textures, patterns and shadows of the world around us. Notice the colour and quality of the light. Listen to the sounds and the smell of the location. Observe your intended subject. When photographing fungi emerging from the leaf litter, I get down to their level. I can smell their habitat. I can smell the fungi. Feel the wind and sun on your skin. Become part of the location. I spend several minutes getting into a Zen mindset, a Zen zone before setting up the camera.
Set up your camera.
When photographing fungi or botany, I will generally use a tripod or a beanbag. It slows me down. It makes me think. Don’t just point and shoot. Don’t think that you have the definitive shot and fire the shutter. Take your time and really look at your subject through the viewfinder or on the camera’s screen. Try different compositions or exposures or focus adjustments. See everything within the frame. You will almost certainly be more creative and come up with better ideas by resisting the urge to fire the shutter and quickly get the shot.
Look closely at the world every day.
For me, Zen-like observation works very well when photographing wildlife and nature but it’s something that I like to undertake every day. I can’t do it all the time – I’d be walking around in a complete introspective trance. Whenever I am in a wood, meadow, park or wildlife situation I ‘switch off’ and observe. I make mental notes, or use a notebook, to return if the light isn’t right or if the subject ‘isn’t ready’. Or I may have a camera with me and begin my Zen photography process. When you truly open your eyes and your senses there is so much to see. And photograph.
Long time EWG member and nature photographer extraordinaire Nigel Bewley has put together two photography tutorials for us! This one is about Wildlife in its Environment and the previous one is Birds in Flight . Thanks Nigel!
Take a step back
It’s lovely and impressive to fill the frame with your subject and make a photograph that is a close-up portrait full of detail but without much of the environment – the place where your subject lives. Just by showing a little of the environment puts the photograph into context. Two goldfinches on a feeder? We know straight away that it was likely to have been taken in a garden with the inference that goldfinches are garden birds.
Set The Scene
If you have wildlife in your garden, set yourself up with your camera, make yourself comfortable and be prepared for a wait. It could be that your subject has become used to you or is so busy that it doesn’t care about your presence.
Try using a piece of material to cover yourself as a disguise. It is always a good idea to keep quiet, move slowly and don’t wear perfume or aftershave. Foxes, amphibians in the pond, birds flying into nest boxes or even rats make great subjects that are right on your doorstep.
Use Props And Build A Set
For this photograph of a coal tit I set up a wooden carry-box and various garden tools and scattered some peanuts. Wait for the right light – you will know when the sun makes its way around the garden and is behind you. Some wildlife photographers can be a bit sniffy about this technique and don’t consider it “proper”.
Many, many successful, published wildlife photographs use props and bait. A fox investigating a tipped-over dustbin? A kingfisher perched on a sign that reads “No Fishing”? A squirrel looking through a camera’s viewfinder? All artifice, guile and imagination.
Go Wide In The Wild
Composition often plays a key role in environmental photographs. Get away from placing your subject in the middle of the frame. A successful environmental photograph may simply be a landscape shot where the subject plays an important role in acting as a focal point.
By including some of this red deer stag’s habitat the image tells more of a story about the animal’s relationship with the environment. We can immediately see two things: it’s a stag and it’s in the mountains.
You don’t have to go to the Cairngorms for this kind of photograph. A nearby green space will works just as well. There’s plenty of wildlife around – like this muntjac. Go and look for it. It will be there.
Wildlife exists alongside us and we exist alongside wildlife. Our lives should be in balance with nature. It never ceases to amaze me how wildlife can be part of our lives – it’s all around us and it’s quite valid to document that with people or buildings etc. as part of the photograph. Wildlife, people and buildings. It often works very well.
Tell a story
Consider a series of photographs of the same subject taken over a period of time to tell a story. It could be of a particular tree seen over the year from bare branches to full leaf, a family of foxes and their cubs or the adoption of a nest box – not necessarily by birds – with their comings and goings.
Use your imagination. Use your love for wildlife.
Please obey and respect the current lockdown rules and advice.
Long time Ealing Wildlife Group member and nature photographer extraordinaire Nigel Bewley has put together two photography tutorials for us! This one is about Birds in Flight and the next one is Wildlife in its Environment. Thanks Nigel!
Getting To Grips With Photographing Birds In Flight
Start with Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority.
Select a shutter speed fast enough to “freeze” the bird’s wings in your photograph. Go for at least 1/1000th of a second to 1/2000th of a second. Even faster is better, if possible.
Select an aperture of around f/8. This aperture is likely to be the lens’s “sweet spot” where it is sharpest and you will also get a decent depth of field.
Set an ISO that will allow for the above combinations of shutter and aperture. On a bright and sunny day, start with an ISO of 250.
The most accurate focus point is the central point but it’s tricky to keep this centred on the bird. Activate all of the focus points or at least a cluster in the centre of the frame. Set your camera’s focus to continuous focus. The camera will continuously focus with the flight of the bird. Canon calls this function “AI Servo”. Nikon calls it AF-C or Continuous Servo.
Your camera’s meter will be trying to expose for the bright sky. The bird that you are trying to photograph is not as bright as the sky so dial in around +1 EV of exposure to fool the meter into exposing for the bird and not the sky. If you are photographing a white bird such as a swan, you may need to dial in around -1 EV to stop the bird “burning out” in the photograph.
Look for a plus/minus button and dial in under or over exposure compensation
The dark plumaged lapwing needed +1 EV but the bright, pale barn owl needed -1 EV for a correct exposure
Lots of practice in the garden or, if lock down allows, in the park.
Having treated myself to a camera bird box for Christmas in 2018 I was disappointed to get no visitors to it on my 4th floor balcony in 2019, but can’t say I was very surprised. Too high for a discerning tit or sparrow, I resigned myself. This Spring I took it to my pal Nigel’s place, where Blue Tits regularly avail of his nest boxes to raise a brood. And he kindly agreed to host the box for the 2020 season, as well as edit and post any footage we managed to capture.
Well for the last few weeks we’ve been on tenterhooks as we’ve been teased by a pair of Great Tits at first, soon followed by a charming little Blue Tit pair inspecting the box and deciding whether or not it might make a nice home.
Let me tell you things have well and truly heated up in the Blue Tit family planning department in recent days, and nest building is underway.
So everyone’s in lock down, confined to their homes for the most part. Every Nature Nerd’s favourite programme, BBC Springwatch, is hanging in the balance of whether it airs or not this year. So we thought it was vitally important to provide you with regular updates of our own little Springwatch experiment here.
Check out the action to date in this, our first #EWGtitcam video, and stay tuned as we’ll be providing more footage of this industrious little pair’s antics in the weeks to come.
While we’re all confined, I’ve noticed so many more people taking the time to watch and observe the beauty of nature around us. It’s a pleasure to see people posting about it on our social media channels. Getting outdoors daily and connecting with nature is just so vital for all of our well being in general, but especially right now. Whether you’ve got a balcony, window ledge or a garden, there are many things we can all do to encourage wildlife to visit. Then sit back and enjoy watching wildlife going about their business as usual!
1. Feed the birds
Birds benefit from having food provided all year round, and the more variety you can offer the more species you’ll attract. Peanuts, sunflower seeds, niger seed, fat balls and dried mealworms will bring in a huge range. Don’t forget a shallow dish of water too. Place feeders near some cover if possible so the birds feel safe stopping by, not out in the middle of a lawn or patio. If you don’t have a garden, not to worry, you can also get suction cup window feeders which will allow you to see your feathered visitors up real close. And everyone has a window!
Buy some wildflower seed packets or a seed bomb online, and sow on a bare patch of earth, or in a pot, container or window box according to pack instructions. These usually contain a mix of native and ornamental flowering plants that are just perfect for pollinators like bees, hoverflies and butterflies. So not only do they create a wonderful display of colour, they also benefit some of our most threatened insects. You can get various mixes that suit woodland shade, full sun, dry or damp conditions so choose your spot and get sowing now.
Any water in your outdoor space will act as a magnet for thirsty wildlife like birds, insects and mammals. And it doesn’t have to be a massive pond. Why not try making a pond in miniature using an empty plastic container, plant pot (with no drainage holes) or an old half barrel. Any water tight container will do, and you can do this on a windowsill too. You’ll be astonished what comes to visit; damsel and dragonflies, lots of microscopic water creatures if you look closely, and if you’re lucky maybe even a newt, toad or frog!
Put your feet up and forget about lawn mowing this summer. Not only is it terrible for the environment, we’re running out of grass in urban areas, especially gardens, as people use decking, paving and (cringe alert!) Astroturf instead. Not good for flooding risk either, all this hard landscaping. But it’s also an ecological desert for wildlife. So to counteract it, what if we all left even a portion of our lawns unmown this year? Wildflowers will spring up and the long grasses with their attractive seed heads provide cover and food for an abundance of insects, including lots of butterfly and moth species. Insects are the bottom of the food chain, so with all this new bug life you’ll get more bats and birds and other creatures too.
If you haven’t already put up a nest box for birds, get cracking. The avian property market is hot, hot, hot right now so you need to be quick. There are various designs available online; blue tits, great tits and sparrows like circular hole fronted boxes (a different diameter for each, 25mm, 28mm, 32mm respectively). Robins, wrens and wagtails will use open fronted boxes. An old teapot or boot placed deep in a hedge can even turn into a robin des res, just be sure to place the teapot spout down and boot toe down for drainage! And if you have a nest box that’s been up for ages and never used, change it to a different location this year. They need to be out of direct sunlight, ideally facing between north and east. Hole fronted ones on a tree or wall 2-4m high. Under 2m high in dense cover for an open fronted robin box.
Don’t forget to tune in across our social media channels for what happens in our Blue Tit camera nest box!
Blue Tit in our camera nest box, hosted by Nigel Bewley
6. Build a log pile or compost heap
Find logs, branches or even woody cuttings from shrubs and trees in your garden and pile them up in a quiet area, leaving a few spaces in between. Rotting wood is an important habitat for insects and other invertebrates, which feed lots of other creatures in your garden ecosystem. Log piles also attract the nationally rare Stag Beetle, whose larva feeds on dead wood. London and Ealing are hotspots for this impressive insect, so the more dead wood you can provide in the garden the better. You may also attract newts, toads, slow worms and even hedgehogs if you make a teepee style pile! Log piles for the win!
Volunteers Richard, Jane & Alex build a logpile by Sean McCormack
7. Dig a pond
If you’ve got the space, I can’t recommend installing a pond highly enough. It’s the single most beneficial feature in any wildlife garden. You’ll have hours of entertainment peering into its depths and marvelling at the number of creatures it draws in to drink, feed or breed over the years. So yes, it’s a bit of hard work to dig and install, but it will repay you ten times over. We’d love to see your efforts if you decide that this is the year you finally put in a pond! Great resources here to help you:
You can buy one online, or make one yourself from scrap wood, boxes or old plastic bottles and stuff them full of hollow bamboo sticks. Place on a sunny wall and watch as various solitary bees use it to raise their young. You can also help the more familiar bumblebees by sinking and upturned terracotta pot into a sunny bank or border filled with dried grass or straw. More detailed instructions here:
Pesticides, herbicides and fungicides line the aisles in garden centres all over the country. These are poisons, killing far more than their target pests and diseases. So please ditch the weedkiller, go chemical free and stop the slug pellets. Poisoned slugs are no good for amphibians, hedgehogs, song thrushes that rely on them for dinner. Use biological controls, like nematodes which are just as if not more effective and eco friendly. You can order biological control for many common garden pests online as well as organic options for many plant diseases.
Leopard slug by Rachael Webb. These ones eat other slugs!
10. See the small things
We’re challenging you to go out in whatever outdoor space you have access to and spend an hour just looking at the ground, the leaves, the world around you. ONce you stop to watch and really observe what’s happening down at ground level in your lawn, or under a stone, or in the edges of a pond if you’re lucky to have access to one, you’ll discover lots of life. Take a snap of what you find, and post it on our social media using the hashtag #seethesmallthings.
We’ve been so busy this past year, that we’ve forgotten (or run out of time) to keep our website updated. For anyone just occasionally checking in on our Facebook group, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was just a forum for people to post wildlife photos and sightings. But there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes.
Here’s a list of just some of the things we managed to deliver for Ealing in 2019, and a snapshot of what’s in store this year.
– countless volunteer habitat management task days (e.g Boles Meadow, Hanwell Meadows, Horsenden Hill to name a few)
– helping manage ponds and surrounding habitat with EWG volunteers and the Friends of Horsenden Hill to preserve vulnerable populations of the internationally threatened Great Crested Newt (GCN) at key locations in the Borough. We also carried out GCN breeding surveys under license with one of our professional ecologists
– getting funding from Tesco for an owl conservation project, erecting approx 20 owl nest boxes for Barn, Tawny and Little Owls across the Borough in association with the parks team
– crucially, for our owl project, working with the Council parks and grassland management team to adapt mowing regimes in key locations to reestablish the rough grassland habitat required specifically by barn owls’ and kestrels’ small mammal prey. Mitigating for the very type of habitat we look set to lose in other areas of Ealing due to proposed development plans.
– running our third annual photography exhibition for residents to enjoy which is proven to boost engagement with and enjoyment of our green spaces (as well as keeping our membership growing year on year)
– community outreach and family fun events in parks including activities like bug hunting, pond dipping and bird spotting to engage young people, families and often under resourced communities with nature and our valuable green spaces
– took part and were funded by the Mayor of London’s National Park City Festival to put on a series of community events called Ealing Wild Discovery Days in July 2019, covering parks and green spaces across the Borough including areas we haven’t previously had much of a presence, such as Northolt, Acton and Southall.
– trips and excursions to share knowledge, build a community and get people outdoors learning about nature. London Wetlands Centre, a camping weekend at Knepp rewilding project in West Sussex, our annual Dawn Chorus walk at Long Wood, Hanwell Meadows and Warren Farm, starling murmuration at RSPB Otmoor in Oxfordshire. All good fun!
– giving talks and walks to several scouts groups in evenings about bats and other wildlife
– free of charge educational bat walks from April to October for the public across the entire Borough from Northolt to Acton which highlight the importance of maintaining wildlife corridors and green spaces for these key indicator species for biodiversity value
– monitoring newly discovered badger setts in the Borough under the advice of the Wildlife Crime Prevention Force to ensure there is evidence of human disturbance should it happen again, like with the last badgers in Ealing that were dug out by men with dogs for sport
– establishing links with Network Rail and London Bat Group to survey and monitor local rail assets as potential bat roost sites, hibernation roosts in particular
– establishing links with several large scale developers in the area to provide nesting and roosting provision for swifts, peregrine falcons and bats as well as other biodiversity benefits integral to their future development proposals
– engaging with local business clubs and business owners to put sponsorship money into green initiatives and wildlife projects in the Borough.
Business As Usual:
– Facilitating an online inclusive discussion forum on Facebook on which there are no stupid questions about wildlife or nature, and everyone can learn and be inspired by a community of experts all with different interests, opinions and viewpoints but by and large treat each other with respect
2020 – things to come!
All of our 2019 work is on-going and, on top of that we are adding the following:
– currently we’re applying for grant funding to transform a 4500sq m derelict allotments site into an official nature reserve to protect it from development (and we need donation pledges to help us get match funding! Check it out here:
– repeating a Water Vole survey in 2020 that was last carried out in 2009 by WWT to establish whether we still have a population of Britain’s fastest declining mammal and what we can do to protect them
– soon to be rolling out a schools outreach programme encouraging wildlife gardening, and encouraging kids to take an interest in bugs, birds and bats in their school grounds
– building kingfisher banks and artificial nesting tubes with the ranger team in multiple locations across the Borough. We’ll be looking for volunteers to help us on this and other habitat task days.
So there you have it, there’s lots going on! And plenty more in the pipeline, and some we’ve probably forgotten. If you’d like to get involved, keep an eye on our events page here on our website, on our Facebook group, or email us to be added to a volunteering mailing list on [email protected]
Our photography exhibition is now live and open to visitors in the wonderful Autumnal setting of Walpole Park in the centre of Ealing. If you haven’t yet visited, what are you waiting for?
Now all the winners have had the chance to check it out and see if their images have made it, we’d like to publish the full list of the photographers behind the winning images. To see the images themselves you’ll have to visit the park where they will be on outdoor display until the end of November.
1st Hunting Barn Owl; Nigel Bewley
2nd I’m Nutty For You; Hegarty McGinn
3rd A Frog’s Eye View; Sennen Powell
4th Unexpected Birth; Malgorzata Sikora
5th Ready for lunch; Nicola Butler
6th Triplets; Diana Russell
1st Early morning, Ealing Common; Toby Cross
2nd It’s always worth taking the scenic route; Janet Cree
3rd Autumn returns in Walpole; Ben Harding-Anderson
1st Close Up Inside an Oriental Poppy; Suzanne Tanswell
We’d like to let local businesses and organisations know about an exciting community event coming up which they may be interested in providing sponsorship for.
How successful was last year’s photo exhibition?
In September 2017 we launched our first ever photography exhibition, an outdoor display of all the winning entries from the photography competition we opened one month previously. The exhibition received an overwhelmingly positive response from the public and local press.
Originally planned to be on display for the month of October in Walpole Park, in fact it was extended by a month and ran until the end of November. A testament to the popularity of the exhibition as a celebration of the wonderful wildlife and open spaces for nature we are lucky to have in Ealing.
Who sponsored it last year?
Last year we were kindly sponsored by Ealing Council, who have agreed this year to contribute to the exhibition and to build our official website, currently under construction. Here we will display last year’s entries and promote our 2018 event.
Why do we need funding?
We need further funding to help us put on an even bigger, better event this year, so are asking local businesses and community organisations to consider sponsoring us. Costs we need to cover include:
Installation of exhibition boards in Walpole Park
An opening event
In exchange for sponsorship, there would be visibility and acknowledgement for your brand or organisation both online and at the exhibition itself.
What to do if you’d like to sponsor us
If this is something of interest, please email us on [email protected]gmail.com so we can send you more detail on sponsorship options and a press pack.
For now, feast your eyes on the three overall winning photos from last year’s successful exhibition!