Our relationship with nature can reshape our whole world, if we allow it

Game Changers: We have been taught over generations to see the role of nature in our lives as unimportant. For us to survive and thrive, that message needs to change

No one teaches us to hate nature. It’s a much more subtle message. It happened when we stepped into secondary schools and left the nature tables and nature walks of primary school behind. Put away those things, the system tells us. They are unimportant in the “real world”.

Climate educators like Susan Adams of Education for Sustainability and Patrick Kirwan of the Irish Schools Sustainability Network are changing the landscape for climate and nature literacy.

And there is another shift happening on a wider level. At the cinema premiere earlier this year of the documentary Birdsong, which will be broadcast by RTÉ this evening, ornithologist Seán Ronayne remembered being called “nature boy” at school as a taunt. As an adult he would love the name now, he said smiling. But at the time it stung, marking him out as different, separate to his peers.

Ronayne’s quest to record the bird song of all the birds on the island of Ireland has been beautifully captured by film-makers Kathleen Harris to create a piece of art that is both poignant and celebratory. Birdsong documents with a rigorous seriousness what we are losing, while giving the viewer a front-row seat and a soundscape into the extraordinary landscapes where wildness still lives.


The reaction to the film has shown the enormous appetite that people have to reconnect with this world. It is a “thirst” Ronayne said, in the post-film chat at that first showing.

Nature-based systems are the solutions that will help us cope with the extreme weather events that climate change is unleashing on us. Towns and cities with trees will be cooler and less prone to flooding. Farms with trees planted into fields and healthy hedgerows will cope better with downpours and be less vulnerable when droughts hit. Crops can be planted and harvested better when soil is protected from compaction, farmed with continuous cover so it is being improved with each harvest. Animals are happier and more productive when they have the shelter of trees and the medicinal benefits of a varied diet of forage from hedgerows, eating ivy off trees and grazing on grasslands with many species of plant in them rather than single monoculture ryegrass.

Covid pushed many of us back into a convivial conversation with the natural world around us. We need to hold on to that with all our hearts.