A muntjac in the receding water

Five minutes in nature: A daily, identical photo

Assistant Director Jack Ashby writes:

Fox wades out into the wetland
A fox wades out into the wetland to raid duck nests in May. © Jack Ashby

Like many people, since March 2020 I’ve been spending a lot of time in whatever countryside I can find near my home. When the UK government specified in those initial, strict covid lockdown guidelines that we were permitted just one hour of exercise outdoors a day, something psychological was triggered in me that made me eager to make sure I used it. Perhaps if things hadn’t been so prescriptive, I would have ended up walking less. It became a ritual that I am yet to stop.

A muntjac in the receding water
A muntjac in the receding water in July © Jack Ashby

These daily dawn or dusk walks in the woods a few minutes from my house allowed me to watch incremental changes to the habitats through the year. There’s a small patch of wetland with reedbeds and a little open water which showed this most dramatically. As summer approached, the open water transformed to a layer of floating green vegetation. I only realised how shallow it had become when I watched a fox wade across it and snaffle eggs from a duck’s nest on a tiny “island” of reeds. Further drops allowed muntjacs to wade in to nibble on the green shoots of the surrounding rushes. By August the pond was entirely gone, and it was just dry mud. It refilled with the autumn rains, and the bullrushes sent up their characteristic flowerheads and the leaves dulled to brown.

The wetland in June 2020 and January 2021
The wetland in June 2020 and January 2021. © Jack Ashby

As we rolled into 2021, and I still found myself working at home and able to walk, I resolved to take note of the change more visually. I set myself the challenge to take a picture of the wetland every day from exactly the same spot, with the plan to create a video of the photos as the year progresses. To do this, I’ve noted exactly where to place my camera, and have some immobile points in the landscape that I use to frame the photo so it will cover precisely the same area each time. Taking the few minutes to do this each day encourages me to really look at the changes taking place in my local spot, and forces me to get outside even when it’s pouring with rain. I’m using the wetland, but exactly the same thing could be done from any patch of green to create something similar – a single tree, a window-view, a pond, a park or a garden.

Every time there’s small change to my now ultra-familiar habitats, a little mantra pops into my head that I first heard at Derby Museums a few years ago (it’s the name of their natural history gallery): Notice Nature, Feel Joy. We need all the joy we can find at the moment, and nature is offering it for free. These daily photos are helping me stop to notice it.

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