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Nature diary entries tell story of extraordinary spring under lockdown

Date: 17/04/2020

Hundreds of diary entries written during the first official week of spring have been published by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and National Trust today as part of a new piece of nature writing which reveals the nation’s observations and feelings about the natural world in unprecedented times.

Ash Sycamore
Ash Sycamore (click to enlarge). Copyright: Kim Crowder

The entries include descriptions of birdsong and blossom by people in self-isolation, sightings of wildlife through windows, and reflections on health and family.

The observations have been brought together in a creative essay by nature writer Natasha Carthew, who said ‘it was important to not only celebrate the arrival of spring, but to capture the nation’s thoughts and fears and include them in a tale of hope and rebirth.’

The Spring Nature Diary is the brainchild of the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the National Trust and the Land Lines research project at the University of Leeds.

Blackthorn blossom
Blackthorn blossom (click to enlarge). Copyright: T Bennett

Nature lovers and budding writers were encouraged to pen 150 words about their observations of the start of spring, as seen in their gardens, through windows or while exercising, before submitting them to a special website.

The initiative was launched on 20 March 2020, the first official day of the season, and closed for entries a week later. A total of 180 entries were submitted.

During that time, Prime Minister Boris Johnson introduced new measures to restrict the spread of the coronavirus, urging the public to only leave the house for essential reasons.

Queen Red Tail bumblebee
Queen Red Tail bumblebee (click to enlarge). Copyright: Ginny Battson

Natasha Carthew, whose essay Hope’s Heart Beats is published today, said: “I absolutely loved weaving all the different nature observations into the story, each diary entry was like a found object gifted from folk all over the country and it was a great privilege to be asked to stitch them into the most beautiful tapestry.

“It was really important when writing ‘Hope’s Heart Beats’ to not only celebrate the arrival of spring, but to capture the nation’s thoughts and fears and include them in a tale of hope and rebirth.”

Flower bed
Flower bed (click to enlarge). Copyright: Raoul Guise

Dr Pippa Marland, from the Land Lines research project, said: “The entrants to this crowd sourced nature diary join a long line of authors who, over the centuries, have celebrated the arrival of spring.

“From Dorothy Wordsworth and Gilbert White to Derek Jarman and Melissa Harrison, nature diarists have evoked the special qualities of this season - the sense of anticipation it instils, as well as the sheer joy of witnessing new life.

“For our contributors, writing about the spring this year has provided solace and hope in a time of unprecedented uncertainty.”

An extract from Natasha Carthew’s essay Hope’s Heart Beats can be found below. The full version can be found on the National Trust’s website: nationaltrust.org.uk/nature-diary

In addition, a PDF of the complete collection of diary entries can also be downloaded from: nationaltrust.org.uk/nature-diary

Extract from Hope’s Heart Beats by Natasha Carthew

All the world is reciting a prayer. Gaia puts her ear to the mud wall to catch the jackdaw chatter next door the husband saying today is the day spring equinox after all but the wife won’t have any of it, not until she sees her first butterfly, Brimstone, got to be.
Beneath the girl’s feet down the tree a bit, Mum is in the kitchen reciting her poem, the one that rumbles on about the turn of the earth, her heart pining for the lengthening of the light, but Gaia knows despite her young age that the rain was still in at night she heard the drumroll thud of every winter word stamped out amongst the marsh marigolds, the ones that circled the flats their glow like stepping stones between the patches of foot pooled mud.
In the bathroom she hears her siblings sing today the day that the earth commences its tilt the pull of the sun from its root, his gift of love and heat to everyone, they said it was true, a Mum promise, pinky. She could hear them splash in the organic mineral matter moving like dippers in the bath, their hands playing beneath the plank that was meant for soap but instead held up a sign that shouted ‘Do not move, frog path.”

Copyright: Natasha Carthew

About the Land Lines research project

'Land Lines: Modern British Nature Writing' is an AHRC-funded research project investigating the history of nature writing in the UK. While the original project, which involved the Universities of Leeds, St Andrews and Sussex, has now come to an end, two public engagement follow-on projects also funded by AHRC are now in progress at the University of Leeds. 'Nature Writing Beyond the Page: Tracks, Traces, and Trails' looks to make the invisible visible by drawing attention to the lives of nocturnal and migratory birds, while 'Tipping Points: Cultural Responses to Wilding and Land Sharing in the North of England' is focused on the cultural benefits of schemes to increase biodiversity, especially on farmland. https://landlinesproject.wordpress.com, @LandLinesNature

About Natasha Carthew

Natasha Carthew is an acclaimed country writer from Cornwall. She has written all her books outside, either in the fields and woodland that surround her home or in the cabin that she built from scrap wood. She has written two books of poetry and four literary novels; ‘Winter Damage’, ‘The Light That Gets Lost’ and ‘Only the Ocean’ which are all published with Bloomsbury and her latest ‘All Rivers Run Free’, is Published by Quercus. Her new prose-poem ‘Song for the Forgotten’ publishes with National Trust Books June 2020. Natasha’s work goes deep beneath the core of what it is to live in rural UK today and explores issues including social isolation, poverty, nature and environmental issues. Central to her work as a writer and performer is to talk about Re-wilding the novel, getting lost in nature and writing outdoors for inspiration and freedom. She has written extensively on the subject of Wild Writing for several publications, including the Writers' & Artists' Yearbook, BBC Radio 3, Eco-fiction, TripFiction, The Guardian, The Big Issue and the Dark Mountain Project.

Associated image caption: Common hawthorn on the commons at Minchinhampton and Rodborough Commons, Gloucestershire. Copyright: National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

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