The secret to repairing humanity’s relationship with nature? Sitting quietly in the woods, according to Sir David Attenborough.
The naturalist has urged people to spend a few minutes silently contemplating the glories of the natural world, saying “extraordinary things happen” when you are alone in the countryside.
“One of the simplest things that you should do if you get the chance, when you get the chance, is just naturally to stop,” Attenborough, 94, said.
“Sit down. Don’t move. Keep quiet. Wait ten minutes. You’ll be very surprised if something pretty interesting didn’t happen within ten minutes.
“Doing that in a woodland, if you haven’t done it, is extraordinary. Don’t get too impatient either.” The experience can be humbling, even for esteemed natural historians. “Speaking for myself, you’ll realize how ignorant you are, how you can’t actually recognize what that birdcall is, which you ought to be able to, I certainly ought to be able to do,” Attenborough added.
“Mind you, I can’t hear either, my age, but, nonetheless, there are things to see and there are wonderful things to see and extraordinary things happen.” Attenborough has filmed wildlife programs in all four corners of the Earth during his 60-year BBC career, and says the act of sitting quietly has opened his eyes to natural wonders.
“The real time when it really is exciting to do that, is if you do it in a place where you don’t know at all,” he told the Call of the Wild podcast, hosted by Cel Spellman. “You go into a jungle in the middle of Costa Rica or something, and then you suddenly see extraordinary things that you really don’t know anything about.”
In the interview Attenborough also warned that human beings were destroying themselves by destroying the natural world. “There are oil slicks and bits of plastic floating in the remotest part of the oceans. We have destroyed nature,” he said. “We’ve been so clever that we’ve found methods and ways and techniques of actually destroying nature in order to put in what we choose, and we’ve done it without thought over vast areas of the planet as though the planet belonged only to us.
“You’ll realize how ignorant you are, how you can’t actually recognize what that birdcall is, which you ought to be able to.”
“We depend on the natural world for interests, for everything that’s beautiful and wonderful. But also we depend on it for every breath of air we take and every mouthful of food we eat. And if we damage the natural world, we are damaging ourselves. And we have been doing that without care for decades.”
There were some grounds for optimism, however. Attenborough said the natural world had “fantastic abilities to regenerate”, pointing to the resurgence in whale numbers since international action was taken to restrict hunts.
“They got them to agree that they would stop whaling. And now there are more whales than have been in the sea for a century.”
Matthew Moore covers media for The Times of London