Small is beautiful. It’s becoming something of a personal manifesto, a statement I would weave deep into the fabric of my naturalist’s creed, were I to write one. The more we learn to wonder at the miniscule dramas unfolding all around us every second, the more content we become. Or at least so I’ve experienced.
It’s not always that simple, though. Much as reading small print strains the eyes, it takes a special kind of concentration to engage with micro-life. I’ve as often come away from staring at moss or springtails or midges with a headache as I have new revelations about life, the universe and everything. That’s where the big stuff really comes into its own – the wildlife that is so ostentatiously in our everyday field of experience that it takes special effort not to notice it.
In this part of the world, the prime example of this phenomenon is red kites. At a bird ringing demonstration in a public park, or at lunch with friends, it is kites that break the ice. Almost everybody has had a memorable experience of them. And on days when I’m too tired or preoccupied to enter into miniature worlds, the sight of big, bright, fork-tailed birds tumbling through February skies is enough to shake me back into the waking, attentive world. They take us out of ourselves, and in so doing bring us back to real life.
If they weren’t now so abundant, could they possibly have the same healing impact? It doesn’t have to be kites: it could be a starling murmuration, or a swirl of black corvids going to roost, or phalanxes of gulls filling the sky at dusk. In great numbers, even the small stuff might have the same impact – it may not be the most attractive of spectacles, but try not to be impressed by the sheer quantity of flies swarming over the reservoirs at Staines on a warm May afternoon. For all that we nature conservationists focus on rarity, I hope that we never lose sight of the inspirational power of ‘common’ wildlife.