For the launch of the Common Cause for Nature report Ralph Underhill explores the endless ways we can get in touch with nature.

“Gonna get myself connected 
I ain't gonna go blind
For the light which is reflected”

Frankly I have no idea what the origins of this song are but it is just possible that the Stereo MCs were motivated to write this classic after the feeling of connection produced by a chance meeting with a pine marten on a forestry path in the Cairngorms.

We can imagine that in the late 80s after having accidentally caught the sleeper from King’s Cross after some after-show over indulgence; the lead singer Rob Birch (I had to look that up) found himself stumbling, but not actually falling, through the stillness of a beautiful pine woodland.

It was on this quiet forest path that he makes out a brown shape just ten paces in front of him, an unsuspecting pine marten. Suddenly aware, the beautiful creature turns its head and for the briefest of moments they are staring each other right in the eyes...  before it escapes out of sight into pine that surrounds them. It is this beautiful moment that (if actually happened) he would remember forever and be moved to write a top twenty hit about.


The Common Cause for Nature report outlines the importance of experiences like the one the Stereo MCs' lead singer may or may not have had. Both communications and experiences that highlight our connection with nature, or awe of the natural world, are likely to help motivate people to behave in ways that benefit the environment.

The report also also highlights the importance of making these experiences available to as many people as possible.

To assume that the Stereo MCs (or indeed anyone else) needs to escape to the 'wilds' to experience nature is just plain wrong. There are chances to connect with the natural world wherever we go.

Waiting for a train in Bristol, I once found myself watching a group of ten pigeons and a bag of overturned popcorn on an otherwise deserted platform opposite. I watched in delight as each bird pecked at the over sized popcorn pieces: failing to do anything but throw the popcorn straight over their heads. For several minutes it was like a group of pigeon brides throwing their bouquets to an imaginary group of wedding guests. And then something amazing happened. One of the pigeons changed its approach and gave its piece of popcorn an almighty peck. The popcorn split into multiple, manageable, bite-size pieces. But what was amazing was that, within a matter of seconds, all of the other pigeons were doing the same. Had they learned from the first pigeon? Or was there something innate that causes them to change foraging tactics after a set amount of time? In the confines of a city train station I had an experience that prompted some interesting evolutionary questions in my mind.

Then there was the time I saw a grey squirrel swimming. Hungover (I was young then!) and lying on a on a park bench, I heard a massive crack. A branch that was over-hanging where I sat plunged towards the Park’s vast pond. As the woody debris hit the water a small grey blob separated from the leafy mass and rapidly made for terra firma. As it came closer I could see that it was a pretty unhappy looking squirrel: equipped for swimming but obviously not enjoying it. Thinking about squirrel physiology it makes sense that they can swim for short distances, but it definitely wasn't something I had considered until that point. It's now something that I will never forget.

I smile fondly whenever I remember these events - and these are just two of the many urban animal encounters I have that have stuck with me.  With the wonder of You Tube many have even caught their experiences on film and shared them.

  • Bird sledging - some lucky bugger saw this amazing spectacle of a bird using a container lid to sledge.
  • Gull steals camera - filming the sunset was made more exciting by the involvement of this gull. Or even better the shoplifting gull from Aberdeen.
  • Not a film but the original photo bomb by a ground squirrel, the couple set up their camera on a timer but the scene was stolen by the local wildlife.
  • Or this wild boar making a visit to Virgin Megastore in Toulouse, though one feels a disgruntled farmer is likely to be involved in this one.

Hopefully my stories and these clips will encourage you to get out there, whether ‘there’ is urban or rural it doesn’t matter, and enjoy the wildlife around you!

Read the Common Cause for Nature report.