One of the exciting things about becoming an amateur naturalist — a student of natural history, and a keen observer of animal and plant life around oneself — is that the world suddenly seems to become much larger.
When you go for a walk, not knowing their names, all you see is birds. Sure, you recognise your standard pigeons and crows, but that’s about it. They might be different sizes and loiter in different places, they might have different feathers, but that’s all they are: birds.
But once you learn their names? Once you know the difference between them? Then, you don’t see birds anymore: you see the wood pigeon and the ring-collared dove, the coal tit and the great tit, the robin and the song thrush, the jackdaw, the rook, the magpie… The world seems that much larger, and that more densely populated.
And you can make the world larger still — you can stop seeing trees, and start seeing oaks, maples, birches; you can stop seeing butterflies, and start seeing cabbage whites, painted ladies, red admirals; you can stop seeing weeds, and start seeing spleenwort, herb robert, ragwort, red valerian, and countless others.
By no means do I know the names of everything I see out on a walk, or even out the front of the flat, sometimes, but just knowing a handful of names makes the world seem that much bigger, and in a time where our personal worlds have been squeezed down to 2km stretches around our homes, every little bit helps.
My interest in naturalism is relatively recent, but is also something I’ve pretty much always carried.
When I was a little boy, like most children, I was fascinated by the natural world, and would frequently appear at the side of friends and relatives with some new creepy-crawly in hand, apparently oblivious to their lack of interest (or sheer dread) in the idea of holding it themselves.
Walks in the olive groves around my grandparents’ home on Crete, or around rock pools at the coast, left me utterly fascinated by anything that I could find, and by the time I was seven, I would excitedly rush around with a net in…