Monday, 26 September 2011

Stop, Look, Listen

When I'm bored the first thing I normally do is turn the TV on, even when there's nothing in particular I want to watch. Watching the TV when I'm on autopilot can't be good for me and definitely isn't good for the environment. It's a habit I'm trying to break, replacing it with different habits. I'm swapping one hour of TV a week for a walk along my local canal. I'm going to try and really pay attention to where I'm going, what I hear and what I see, rather than wandering along wrapped up in my own thoughts.

Walking is great. It's good exercise, can reduce the risk of some cancers and helps with metal health too. In 2007, Mind (the mental health charity) carried out studies into how walking affects people. After a country walk 94% of people felt their mental health had improved. The study also showed that walking around a town or city shopping area tends to depress people. So walking through nature is a free way to improve fitness, health and mental well being. Fantastic! Definitely sounds better than sitting in front of the TV not watching. Don't forget that even in big cities you can always find tiny pockets of green in parks or along rivers or canals.

I started today. As soon as I got down to the canal the sound of traffic lessened and the sounds of pigeons and sparrows surrounded me. The canal still looks quite summery, especially today when it was sunny and warm. On my walk, as well as sparrows and pigeons, I saw mallard ducks, moor hens, swans and signets, long tailed tits, coal tits, a blue tit, a spider, two white butterflies and a dragonfly. All within a short walk of my city house.

Not having my headphones in (another habit I'm trying to break) also meant I heard far more than normal. Walking past hedges I heard birds cheeping an so I stopped and looked. Doing this helped me find lots more birds and pausing on the bridge to actually look at where I'd walked and was going meant I stayed still enough to see the butterflies and dragonfly.

Other than birds, spiders and insects I also looked at the plants around me. I found blackberries (almost all picked or under ripe), oak trees, haws (the lovely red berries from hawthorn trees!) and also lots of Himalayan Balsam. This last one is also know as Policeman's Helmet and Kiss-me-on-the-mountain, it's an invasive non-native weed in the UK. It has very sweet, strong smelling flowers which are a beautiful purpley pink. You'll have seen it around rivers or boggy ground but did you know their seed pods explode? I didn't. This plant has swept across the UK and is out competing other, native, species, which isn't great for them. One positive, however, is that bees really like the flowers and it seems to be helping increase the dangerously low UK bee population.

At the moment going for an hour walk is easy. The weather's still quite mild, it's nice and light and it wasn't raining today. It will get harder, I'll be much less enthusiastic when it's dark, rainy and cold in November. But starting now will hopefully mean it's a habit by then and that will make it easier. One thing I'm particularly interested in is how familiar places change over the seasons. Each week I'll take a photo of the canal to capture how it changes as the months pass.

What's around the corner near you? Comment and let me know!

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