The Irish Times view on autumn in lockdown: wonders within 5km

Nature is in a quieter mood right now, but there is still lots going on, and you will be richly rewarded if you look for it

A woman enjoys the autumn sunshine in St Stephen’s Green, in Dublin, last week. Photograph: Aidan Crawley/EPA

A woman enjoys the autumn sunshine in St Stephen’s Green, in Dublin, last week. Photograph: Aidan Crawley/EPA

 

There is growing concern, and rightly so, about the impact of pandemic restrictions on our mental health. We know that outdoor exercise, and especially time spent in landscapes rich in natural beauty, boosts our well-being. But what to do if we are not lucky enough to live within 5km of such a landscape? Moreover, while Spring flowers and birdsong sustained many of us the first time around, many of us fear that autumn and winter are inherently depressing seasons outdoors.

This is also the high season for wildfowl and wading birds, and many are now at home in the suburbs

But perhaps this is a misconception. Nature is in a quieter mood right now, but there is still lots going on, and you will be richly rewarded if you look for it. Decay is an essential part of the annual natural cycle, and it can be as vibrantly beautiful as blossoms. This is especially true of foliage, and since almost all of us live within 5km of deciduous trees, their spectacular autumn transformations into vivid reds, yellows, rusts and golds is a drama that will illuminate most excursions.

Many plants are in flower, though often rather discreetly. Check out your local ivy closely, and you will probably find it a mass of tiny blooms. Hedges are glowing with berries, sometimes shaking with feasting blackbirds and thrushes. Some gorgeous ferns are still in season (and thriving on urban walls). Once you get your eye in, you may find exotic-looking mushrooms almost anywhere. This is also the high season for wildfowl and wading birds, and many are now at home in the suburbs. So you can look up and see a V-shaped flock of Brent geese flying over a shopping centre, or find them feeding near oyster catchers, and even curlew, on a football pitch.

Groups like Ballymun Wild-Life in Dublin and Friends of Merlin Woods in Galway do excellent work opening windows on urban nature through their Facebook pages, while the National Biodiversity Data Centre has organised a winter wildlife photo challenge over the next six weeks.

Perhaps we could use this locked-down Bank Holiday Monday as an opportunity to start enjoying the wondrous diversity of life that still surrounds us, very close to home.

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