Sensing Nature Stories

Sensing Nature has gathered a rich array of information about the diverse ways in which people interact with nature. 

In mid-November last year, Sensing Nature organised a two-day “Nature Sense” workshop. Focusing on the types of nature settings that are managed by organisations like the RSPB and the WWT, the overall aim of the workshop was to explore how we can promote and enable more inclusive multisensory nature experiences amongst people living with sight impairment.

Following on from our earlier news piece about the event, we wanted to share the experiences of one of our Nature Sense workshop participants, Richard Groves. Richard has been inspired by the workshop to visit nature reserves that are managed by the RSPB and WWT to explore what they could offer to him, as a keen walker in his 70s, physically fit and registered blind. 
Richard’s first visit was to RSPB Titchwell in Norfolk just before Christmas. His account of the visit, extracts of which are shared below, demonstrates the importance of both an open mind and a willing, knowledgeable volunteer guide in facilitating what Richard describes as a figuratively “eye-opening” experience. 

So, in Richard’s words…

"Following on from the ‘Sensing Nature’ workshop in Slimbridge in November, I visited RSPB Titchwell whilst on holiday in North Norfolk. This trip was to fill a gap in my knowledge having passed the reserve on many occasions as a walker, not thinking that there would have been anything of interest there for me. My eyes have now been figuratively opened. Titchwell reserve has a tremendous amount to offer for visually impaired people (VIPs), at very little if any extra cost to the RSPB.

Ray Kimber a volunteer at the reserve of some 50 years escorted me throughout my time at Titchwell. Ray is a very knowledgeable, patient and personable guide. In order to push myself I made the 20 mile journey on my own using the local ‘Coasthopper’ bus and was met at the bus stop by Ray where my adventure began. Ray had never guided a VIP before but it only took me some 15 seconds to teach him the basics and within half a minute both he and I were at our ease and never gave another thought to the matter.

To describe all that we did would go well beyond these observations. However, a few examples will help flesh out some of what turned out to be more than four hours of non-stop walking, talking and learning on my side. Time flew by. Initially Ray described the extent and general layout of the reserve. We walked through woodlands, by salt and freshwater marshes, alongside the sea wall and finally onto the beach. It was a bitterly cold day, -3C, with a wind that Ray eloquently described as having last touched land in Siberia where many of the birds currently in Titchwell had spent their summer.

Ray kept up a fascinating commentary about the various nature encounters that we came across: the sounds of the Greylag geese, the half pipe of a Curlew, the wind through the trees and the honking of different geese as they flew overhead. Hardly a moment went by without Ray drawing my attention to some aspect of Titchwell: touching rough and smooth bark, feeling moss on a branch and ivy twisting up towards lichen, all on the same tree. Elsewhere I felt where both bees and wasps had chewed their way to build nests in knot holes, identified mussel and oyster shells and can boast that I can now tell reeds from sedges, purely by touch.

Of all, I found our exchanges in a bird hide the most exciting. At first I could not see anything. I do have a tiny pin hole of sight in one eye but it takes me a considerable time to locate and see any object. Under Ray’s guidance I gradually made out the effect of light on the rippling water. Then the banks of the freshwater lagoon appeared. Slowly I built up a composite picture of the marsh, allowing me to understand the full extent of what was before me. Ray asked if I could see anything in the water. Far off I noticed a line of white dots. Ray told of the number and habits of Black Headed Gulls there. I surprised Ray by asking about a slightly dispersed group of larger birds close by. Again Ray was delighted to tell me about Brent geese. We both felt a thrill of achievement when Ray got me to note a group of Avocets, the RSPB signature bird; a slow but satisfying collaboration that gave us both a sense of achievement.

Other notable birds were Shovellers’ with their Donald Duck beaks dipping for food; a Black Tailed Godwit using its long bill to sift for small creatures in the marsh. Then the typical but comic steps of a Plover, three steps forward stop and listen, three more steps and listen, then a sudden peck to find a tasty morsel in the mud. 

In all we must have walked two or three miles although there are many shorter walks laid out. Final chats with Ray, Corrie and other Titchwell staff gave me a much broader understanding of all that the reserve has to offer. In reality I think that what the centre has presently is eminently suitable for VIPs without adaptation. The reserve has some 70 volunteers, many of whom would undoubtedly make ideal VIP guides with a little instruction. For me this is the key ingredient to a successful visit.

For VIPs, interaction with others is a most important aspect of life. We are often lost in the margins of society. My final thanks therefore goes to all the staff of Titchwell and especially to Ray Kimber who broadened my horizons and gave me warm memories that I will cherish."