Autumnwatch 2020 is just the respite we need

Springwatch transformed my love of nature and brought meaning to a summer of lockdown. Now, Autumnwatch promises to bring just as much solace to the uncertain winter ahead.

Earlier this year, I regretted that I hadn’t watched Springwatch as it happened. It might seem like an odd thing to lament, but as I caught up on the series a month or so after it had aired, I realised I’d missed something special and momentous.

Because the beauty and shared sentiment of that programme was undeniable. And there was a palpable poignancy as presenter Chris Packham spoke often of our collective isolation and the importance of nature to help get us through it.

Springwatch made me bury my nose in roadside jasmine and honeysuckle, and stoop to come eye-to-eye with pollen-covered bees

This year, things were different. Rather than being broadcast from its usual hub with four presenters gathered together, each were dotted around from their lockdowns in a challenging live broadcasting feat they pulled off for three weeks. From his home in the New Forest, Chris spoke almost poetically about our collective struggle, and I’d often tear up at his monologues of insight. There was a real sense of togetherness, that we were all doing our bit. And even though the situation felt dire, at least we had nature. 

As Autumnwatch comes back on BBC2 from 27 October, who would have thought that almost six months on, both everything and nothing has changed? We’ve passed through two seasons and yet autumn has become a bookend to our first taste of confinement. Yet I think “the Watches” are the perfect programmes to not only give us a fleeting break from our limbo, but to highlight the importance of nature as we hunker down indoors – both its impact on us, and our impact on it.

What’s so important about nature telly anyway?

Springwatch came at a time when nature had been flourishing in our backyards and neighbourhoods. Maybe it had always been this way; it’s just that we’d rarely had so much time to stop and look. But as millions of us were at home watching the world go by, more of us discovered nature’s comforts. As the cars came off the roads and the boats off the rivers, the quiet that ensued made wildlife feel abundant at its busiest time of year. Given that nature has a huge positive impact on our wellbeing, like reducing stress hormones and even lowering blood pressure, that spring season was a well-timed tonic for our collective struggle. 

I’d experienced it myself. I’d been spending more time in our garden, and what had started as looking out on the trees over coffee and breakfast quickly evolved into listening to the chattering of birdsong, and watching the blue tits, blackbirds and goldfinches that visited our garden.

Springwatch made me pay attention. Soon, I discovered my uncontrollable smile when I watched birds fly to the feeder, take a bath in the shallow dish on our wall, or simply perch in contemplation. I learned to listen to the bird calls, and even started to identify some of them. It gave me an unexpected and continued joy, and so much solace in tricky times. I’d never expected to belly laugh as a blackbird splashed in the bath, but it’s up there as one of my favourite things I saw all summer.

The Springwatch effect turned my daily walks into wide-eyed awe as I saw the beauty in my local parks that I’d never really noticed. It made me curious about the flowers I passed in the street. It made me bury my nose in roadside jasmine and honeysuckle, and stoop to come eye-to-eye with pollen-covered bees. It took me to woodlands where I first saw a great spotted woodpecker and almost cried with joy. It piqued my curiosity in camouflaging moths and web-spinning spiders. These creatures and plants with a lifecycle of their own gave me an escapism that was unexpected, but welcomed.

Crucially, it made me so much more conscious of the precariousness of wildlife, and the human threats they and their habitats face. Our wildlife is precious, its destruction irreversible. Now, I’m angrier about injustices, engaging with campaigns and having my eyes opened to senseless projects. In 2015, former series presenter Martin Hughes-Games said the series had failed to get people involved with wildlife, and as wildlife and habitat destruction ran rife, they’d created a “utopian world that bears no resemblance to the reality“. I only hope this can’t be true, and that programmes like Springwatch and Autumnwatch could make naturalists of us all. Just as I found how much I need nature, this is a two-way street. As soon as restrictions allow, I’ll be finding a conservation organisation to volunteer with so I can take my interest and passions further than my living room.

I know Autumnwatch will spur me to keep exploring and relishing the tonic of outdoors, just as I did in spring and summer. It really is the most beautiful time of year and I can’t wait to see what the next few weeks has in store. Because nature is a reminder that nothing is permanent, except, of course, the joy of the Watches.