A new Lancashire-based project drawing inspiration from Japan will assess the impact of taking notice of the ever changing natural world on participants’ health and wellbeing. Fiona Finch reports on the challenge to identify 72 microseasons on and around a much loved Lancashire landmark.
How connected are you to the natural world around you?
It is a question staff in Lancashire’s Bowland AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) hope people will ask themselves in the new year.
They want to alert many more people to the ever changing beauty of their local environment and in the process assess associated health benefits
In particular the AONB is focusing its attention on Pendle Hill and its surrounding area ... after taking lessons from Japan.
The hill is famed for its links to the infamous Lancashire Witch trials of the 17th century. But many county residents also know it as the location for popular walks.
Cathy Hopley, previously Funding and Development Officer for the AONB, spearheaded the A Walk In The Park project at Leagram, near Chipping and is now manager of the Pendle Hill Landscape Partnership.
Part of her role is not only to introduce more people to the joys of Pendle but to enable them to understand more about the landscape and its history.
She said: “The Pendle Hill landscape partnership is all about re-connecting people to the landscape, nature and our heritage.”
Cathy explained how inspiration for their next project has come from Japan: “You might have heard of ‘sakura’ which is cherry blossom season? This is one of 72 seasons described in an ancient Japanese calendar where the seasons change every four or five days. Inspired by this, we have identified 72 seasons for Pendle Hill and we need (the public’s) help in 2020 to see if they are the right seasons.”
She continued: “In the New Year we will be launching a new project which measures just how well connected we are to nature, and the impact this can have on our health and wellbeing.”
The AONB’s Pendle Hill landscape partnership team is now seeking to recruit what they have called “Nature Adventurers”.
Cathy asked: “Will you seek the seasons with us? Do you live in Pendle or live, work or travel in sight of Pendle Hill? If you do, we need you to join our nature adventure.
“You will be helping us to notice the weather, the skies, wildlife and flowers. “
She stressed that the project is not just for hikers. She said:”You don’t need to be able to climb Pendle Hill or walk in the wilderness, this can all happen in your immediate neighbourhood and does not require any special footwear, knowledge of nature or equipment.
“You can take part even if you are working full time and living a busy life – it can all be done online.”
To become a “seasonal seeker” will not, she stresses, be unduly time consuming either. Participants have to be observant.
Cathy said: “It takes just 30 minutes over three months. And if you like one season, you can sign up to follow the next!
“All our seekers remain anonymous and they also have the chance to track the their nature photos in a special Facebook group.
“We will simply ask you to fill in a short online health questionnaire in January, another in March and then to receive six emails which explain the seasonal changes during those 12 weeks and to ask if you have seen them.
“For example, we might ask you to note when the first snowdrops emerge, and if spiders webs glisten at the start of February?”
The linked research, part of the wider What’s A Hill Worth project will seek to evaluate the impact of such awareness of changes in the natural world on health and wellbeing.
Kirsty Rose-Parker of Barnoldswick based company The Evaluator devised the seasons project and will assess how such awareness affects participants’ health and well-being and how to measure this impact. Cathy continued: “It’s part of this looking at social prescribing. You might be prescribed to go to a gym or swimming class, but equally going outdoors to experience nature can be prescribed.”
The research will also feed into work looking at how best to support people who may need help to get out - perhaps with transport, company or an arranged activity.
Although this project is linked directly to Pendle Hill and the surrounding areas Cathy says the same awareness of and observation of changing micro-seasons would be of benefit for county residents living further afield too .
Cathy said: “We would still encourage (people) to look for those changes in nature. It’s obviously a positive thing for people to be doing to see the changes in the seasons. It’s just reflecting on what we see every day and taking a bit more notice. I always think it’s what your grandparents used to say - go and get some fresh air and you’ll feel better ... a five or 10 minute walk will make you feel better.”
She noted how walk, perhaps with family or friends too, can make you forget about what might be bothering you :”or thinking about it you come up with a solution because you’ve got the time and space.”
A special calendar will be produced at the end of the year featuring illustrations by specially commissioned artist Cath Ford whose first illustration for the new year is pictured here. Cath will be illustrating all 72 “seasons” as the year progresses. The calendar will track the changes throughout the year.
It will enable the project to be shared with a wider audience who can compare seasonal changes in 2021 where they live.
Cathy said: “It’s just reflecting on what we see every day and taking a bit more notice about it.”
To take part in the health evaluation project you must live, work or travel in sight of Pendle. Cathy said seasonal markers could include the first time you see a lapwing or curlew, when the first primrose appears, tulips bloom or swallows arrive .Nor do you have to go far field to notice the mini seasons. A walk down the street, a view from your window, observation of birds at a birdfeeder all count in this project. See www.72seasons.co.uk
*The Pendle Hill Landscape Partnership is led by the Forest of Bowland AONB . The four year scheme was awarded a £1.8million grant by the National Lottery
Heritage Fund in January 2018 which is being matched with a further £1m raised locally.
Its aims include restoring, enhancing and conserving the heritage and landscape of Pendle Hill, reconnecting people with their past and the landscape and creating a sustainable future for the environment, heritage and visitors' experience of the Hill.