Updated: Feb 1
There are many benefits of keeping a nature journal as it creates a stronger connection between ourselves and the world around us, we carry out an activity which keeps us present and attuned to our senses; listening, looking and feeling what is around us. You can also explore further afield and discover new places you didn't even know were there!
Importantly, the benefits can be more far reaching than just ourselves. Keeping a record of species around us can help inform others, share knowledge, educate and tell people about spaces and species the species they can find there and possibly highlight what's at risk which can prove vital.
A journal I created last year which consisted mainly of notes and a few drawings as reference.
A nature journal shouldn't be a chore but something that we enjoy. We also don't have to record daily. Even if we just get to a park or garden for a few minutes, take time to observe a tree - the shape of the leaves, the patterns on the bark, it's size, what we see interacting with it. It doesn't need to be a long list of everything we see in a whole day.
The task, if you wish to accept it, is to start and continue a nature journal for the next month, creating entries for at least 7 different days.
Additionally*, use some online ID apps and add at least one entry into an official biological recording app.
What it should include
Observations / descriptions
Interestingly, you don't need to ID the species you see. Just be descriptive.
Things you see and hear in your garden/local park/on your street
Wildlife from a home or office window
Describe a tree or plant - whether they have leaves or buds, the shapes and colours
How the weather is impacting the birds, mammals, insects eg, if it's windy, do you see many birds, when raining, what do you observe the animals doing
Document the habitat
“Nature journaling will enrich your experiences and develop observation, curiosity, gratitude, reverence, memory, and the skills of a naturalist.” - John Muir
It's not a competition
No one need see your journal. It's yours and yours alone. It doesn't need to be beautiful, nor contain everything Attenborough would include. Just use your senses and enjoy your interactions.
Use your senses
Use all of your senses. Even if you are looking at a species or area you are familiar with, look at it in a new way. See the colours, textures, the location. Are there others of the same/different near by? What are the sounds around you? Look at where it is, what it's interacting with, the weather, location, time of day.
For reference, take photos, but don't let these be your eyes - trust yourself and spend more time that you think in one area.
It shouldn't be a chore
Find a little time in your day to observe what's around you. It might be a few minutes on a lunch break where you find one thing. Don't rush yourself to find as much as you can. Spend the time with just one thing.
The journal does not need to be a creative masterpiece
We have all seen the amazingly detailed, intricate and stunningly beautiful journals. However, the core aim of the journal is to capture what you see.
Therefore, all you need is a notebook and a pencil to list out what you see.
You can however, take a small flower press with you, take rubbings of bark, leaves etc. Be conscious of not taking things from the root, don't damage the area you visit, leave no trace and take things sparingly, if at all.
You can also print off a few photos from your outing and stick them in your journal (you can print these in b/w on standard paper to keep costs down and describe the colours.
*of the small number of coloured drawings in my own journal, I realised I got transfixed by the colouring in. If it helps your mental health and helps you be in the present moment, go for it - who cares what it looks like!!
You can go to the same place at different times of day or the same time
Not being able to go far or to different places don't need to stop you. Go to the same location and see if you can spot different things. How does the weather or time of day change this?
How to identify what you see?*
There may be a few things we know instantly, some we have an inkling about and others we have no idea about.
If you want to start to identify what you are looking at, there are many ways you can do this:
You can borrow guide books from your local library
Ask others to help from friends to online forums
Officially record what you see to help the wider community and perhaps to protect your own space*
As the Natural History museum of London states:
"That wealth of data, supplied primarily by people volunteering their time and effort through watching wildlife, means that we understand our biodiversity far better than we ever could through the efforts of researchers and scientists alone."
There are several widely used tools which can be downloaded to your phones so you can use them easily. You can upload photos and other notes. These get verified by experts to validate the information.
iRecord - Data can be uploaded via the website or a mobile app. Observations are verified then fed to the appropriate National Biodiversity Network.
iNaturalist - is a global tool. Data can be uploaded via the website or a mobile app. Your uploaded images are checked by an AI photo recognition tool to assist with identification, then verification is confirmed by other users.
eBird - Contribute your sighting to the wider community. You can also use to to find what is common in a given area.