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The joy that wildlife can bring

Posted on 11 April 2016 | 6:04am

Here is a piece I have done for this week’s Radio Times, about tonight’s In The Wild documentary on BBC 2 (630pm) in which expert Gordon Buchanan takes me on a tour of the Hebrides. I hope if you see it you enjoy watching it as much as I enjoyed making it.

‘Do what you love and love what you do, and everything else is detail.’ So said tennis legend Martina Navratilova, one of the WINNERS in my book of that name. Navratilova is among the lucky ones. As an elderly woman said to me at the Cheltenham book festival ‘I didn’t feel that many of your winners are very happy.’ It took me aback, reduced me to replying ‘this book is not about happiness; it’s about winning. They are not the same thing.’

Looking at my own career through the Navratilova prism, I do not score high. I thought I loved being a journalist. But if so, how come it led to an alcohol and stress induced breakdown that I feared had ended my career before I hit 30? As for my second career with Tony Blair, I am happy that I did the job. But was I happy when doing it? My depression-laden diaries would suggest the answer is, often, No.

Today, in a third career mixing consultancy, campaigns, writing, speaking, charity and sport, I cannot claim to be doing what I love, because what I do is too varied. Some days, I fear I am wasting my life, and should be back doing something full on, full time, in politics. Other days I feel enthused, motivated, making a difference, happy. It helps that the main relationships in my life, after ups and downs galore, are in good shape. It helps too that I earn more money for doing less, (someone once called the public speaking market ‘white collar crime’) which gives me more time to do things that feel like they matter (mental health campaigning is probably the thing I enjoy most, though I couldn’t do it all the time).

 

So where does the happiness come from in this mix? It comes from freedom. I feel free to make the choices I want to make, and that is a rare privilege. So when wildlife film-maker Gordon Buchanan asks me if I would like to explore wildlife in the Hebrides where my father was born and raised, I am able to say yes, and drop or postpone other pressures on time that may be in the diary.

Now Gordon truly is, so it seems to me, someone doing what he loves, loving what he does, and knows the detail inside out. I could look for wildlife on my own, but having an expert with me, one driven by such passion for his subject, meant I was more likely to see the creatures we were looking for. Otters, eagles, puffins, seals, and, as our boat headed for home at sunset, and we discussed how losing yourself in nature can help deal with anxiety and depression and the stresses of life, an unexpected shoal of dolphins; they put on a display of such beauty I would put it up there with having children, winning elections or playing football with Diego Maradona amid my all time lifetime highlights.

 

My freedom gave me the chance to see these creatures in the wild; their freedom made them the deliverer of the joy that I felt. To protect our freedom and potential happiness, we should think more about theirs, and try to give every man, woman and especially child the chance to enjoy getting close to them. Watching a sea eagle swoop to take a fish thrown from the back of our boat, I felt almost as free as she did. We helped her feed her nesting young. She helped us nourish our souls. That is a very good deal, and I think we get the better of it.

 

 

  • Ehtch

    Week before last, went into my garage to take the car out to go and see my sick dad in hospital, and there was someone staring at me, a robin with small twigs and fluff in it’s beak. Decided to nest in the garage – no idea where the other half was, or if it had one, yet… No need to say, I will make sure I will keep the small window open to the garage for the next two/three months.

  • Caroline

    What a lovely read, and I really enjoyed watching the programme on BBC 2 last night. Scottish nature and beauty beamed into my front room. Puffins rule! I am a great believer in the power of nature to heal. I agree with you Alastair: everyone has the right to access it. I do fear that the concrete jungles that many of us are now forced to live and work in do not do much for the soul or the spirit. The power that nature has to transform and renew is being lost because more and more of our green environment is being built on or “developed” and more wild habitats destroyed. It’s good to know that Scottish islands such as Mull remain places of sanctuary, not just for animals and birds, but for humans too.

  • Caroline

    What a lovely read, and I really enjoyed watching the programme on BBC 2 last night. Scottish nature and beauty beamed into my front room. Puffins rule! I am a great believer in the power of nature to heal. I agree with you Alastair: everyone has the right to access it. I do fear that the concrete jungles that many of us are now forced to live and work in do not do much for the soul or the spirit. The power that nature has to transform and renew is being lost because more and more of our green environment is being built on or “developed” and more wild habitats destroyed. It’s good to know that Scottish islands such as Mull remain places if sanctuary, not just for animals and birds, but for humans too.

  • Dave Simons

    One of the positive achievements of the Labour Government of 1997 – 2001 was the Countryside and Rights of Way Act (CROW 2000), an Act which I’ve never seen listed as an achievement when the Labour Party defends its record in office. This Act was a long time coming – first in Parliament in 1884 as an Access to Mountains Bill (Scotland) put forward by the Liberal politician, Lord Bryce, and a long-overdue successor to the National Parks and Countryside Act passed by the Labour Government of 1945 – 51. Many thanks to MPs like Chris Smith and Michael Meacher for pushing the CROW Act (2000) forward, and I’m sorry to say no thanks to Tony Blair, who started back-pedalling on the Act and who, in his autobiography, expressed regret about the ban on hunting with dogs (2004). Let’s never forget that the kind of emotionally refreshing and almost ‘spiritual’ experience Alastair describes takes place in the context of a battlefield – the UK countryside. Also let’s never forget what a major national asset is the UK countryside, with its Access Land and amazing public rights of way network, and how this major national asset is ever under threat from powerful private interest groups, whose alternative agendas usually involve the making of money money, money!

  • Caroline

    What a lovely read, and I really enjoyed watching the programme on BBC 2 last night. Scottish nature and beauty beamed into my front room. Puffins rule! I am a great believer in the power of nature to heal. I agree with you Alastair: everyone has the right to access it. I do fear that the concrete jungles that many of us are now forced to live and work in do not do much for the soul or the spirit. The power that nature has to transform and renew is being lost because more and more of our green environment is being built on or “developed” and more wild habitats destroyed. It’s good to know that Scottish islands such as Mull remain places if sanctuary, not just for animals and birds, but for humans too.

  • Ehtch

    And BTW Ali fach, have I posted my version of Dennis Skinner getting his latest ban from the House of slimy Cees (Dennis and a few others excepted) from that herculean midget, Speaker Bercow, yet? Well I have now! Let’s dance Ali… tell Grace to join us, and drop her handbag on the dance floor in the middle of us, moshing, then make your polite retreat excuses about a couple of minutes later, DAD! ; )

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5klfeHA02mk

  • Ehtch

    Poem just did for mee dad….

    Father with Stroke

    He had a big one,
    over two months ago now,
    body is standing up,
    but the mind!

    Asking for his mam and da,
    them almost thirty years now gone,
    and asking where is ma,
    her over 14 years gone.

    In all my bravery and imagination,
    don’t think can “come home”,
    no bunting nor banners prepare,
    sadly next is 24 hour nursing care home.

    Presently in stroke ward 9,
    Prince Philip Llanelli,
    just ask for Raymond,
    thankfully, will still give a respond.

    He liked the Sound of Bread, him playing it cassette, in his green Ford Cortina 2000 GXL mark 3, from behind the wheel, back in the mid 1970s….

    Love of parents is unconditional, but I think with some, it’s the total ultimate Stockholm Syndrome, in your sub-conscious sleeping, no matter what.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VDXPUW8Lm0w