Becoming Nature - by Dr Lou Luddington

Becoming Nature - by Dr Lou Luddington

Exploring the power and meaning of quiet time in nature

Poking my head up and out through the open velux window into the darkness, I hear a tawny owl hooting in the woods opposite our house. In response another owl screeches its answer from the trees in the driveway. The two sounds fill the still night air and echo round the whole garden that is softly illuminated by a hazy moon. Motionless I am a privileged eavesdropper to their treetop nuptials. After a few minutes the screecher takes flight, still calling as it heads towards the hooter, until both meet amidst the leaves high in the boughs. Hoots and screeches mingle as wings clash and feathers strike leaves and branches. Then all is quiet. Two birds reunited in quiet companionship. I reverse back down from the window and quietly pull it shut feeling the familiar buzz I get from time in nature, that sense of awe, wonder and completeness. 

What does time in nature mean for you? Maybe you were one of the lucky ones who got to see Humpy the humpback whale blowing and breaching in Fishguard harbour a few weeks ago. Or perhaps you’ve swum out from the beach and floated under the open sky and felt for a moment that all was good in the world. Whatever it is for you, it's the emotion that keeps you coming back for more. Nature is incredible at providing so much joy, wonder and comfort in our lives. My recent project Becoming Nature has confirmed that beyond doubt. 

Over the last few months I’ve been working on an environmental art project commissioned by Span Arts Narberth called Becoming Nature. Through photography and writing I explore the power and meaning of these moments of nature connection for ten Pembrokeshire locals in their favourite places in nature. Each person’s love story to nature combines evocative portraits, photographs of the environment and species and haiku poems in a powerful narrative of healing, gratitude and wonder.  All ten love stories are shared as an illustrated talk, weaved with live original music from Glas Captains. 

It was so clear from these collected stories that our health and well-being are closely tied to the natural world. The evidence is out there with countless scientific studies showing the unequivocal benefits of time in nature. By tuning into our natural surroundings we wake up from and escape our thoughts that often make us anxious, stressed and unwell. 

By way of a taster of Becoming Nature, this is love story number three from Emma. 

Emma is a freediver and wildlife guide for Celtic Deep who run wild snorkelling trips around the Pembrokeshire coast. They also operate as a Community Interest Company carrying out conservation research and community engagement projects with a particular focus on sharks. 

In my interview with Emma she spoke of feeling “entirely captivated by the underwater world and part of the greater ocean ecosystem when freediving. Depending on conditions and wildlife, my feelings range from calm and tranquil to exhilaration and revival.” 

Some of these emotions can be explained by science. The physiological effect of submersion whilst breath holding is to slow our heart beat, this is a reflexive survival response to conserve oxygen called the Mammalian Dive Response. The effect is to calm our nervous system and bring us into the present moment. Add to that the joyous feeling of weightlessness and encounters with wildlife and there's no wonder freedivers keep going back for more!


Emma also feels that “Connectedness is at the heart of everything we do whether we feel connection or not. Our choices and actions have an impact on nature and climate and depending on what choices we make that can be positive or negative.” She also said she thought it was “crucial to spend time in nature learning about the plants and animals that share our world, to better understand our place within this larger system. Plus, there are lots of great mental, physical and emotional benefits to spending time in healthy natural environments.”

Kelp beds and catsharks 

(Photo) Kelp (Laminaria hyperborea) glowing metallic hues in summer sun at Caerfai bay, St David’s. 
*This image is available to buy as a print entitled ‘Gold’ from my website

The Pembrokeshire coast is rich with these magical underwater glades and is a personal favourite place to explore on a calm, sunny day. Kelp forests are important on a global scale providing food and shelter for many other species, as well as absorbing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen for us to breathe. Like forests on the land, their role in climate change mitigation is crucial. 


With Emma’s draw to sharks I chose to spotlight the nursehound (Scyliorhinus stellaris), a type of catshark commonly seen in local waters. These small sharks lay their eggs in leathery pouches that are tethered to kelps by strong flexible tendrils. As the female lays each egg capsule she twists round and round the kelp stipe to anchor it securely. Inside the pouch an embryo grows nourished by a yolk sac, finally emerging as a baby shark or pup.  You may find them washed up on the beach in the strandline with other similar shark and ray egg cases. A fun activity is to try and identify the species using the Shark Trust’s Egg Case ID guide. 

The message is so clear to me - nature looks after us so we must look after it. Without a thriving natural world we cannot thrive either. So I urge you to keep getting out in nature, live with heart and do your utmost to spread the love for the

natural world.

Experience Emma’s story in full alongside nine other love stories to nature from Pembrokeshire folk at my next illustrated talk. From garden, ocean, estuary, oak forest, river, mountain top, to coast path and surf you will be transported to some of Pembrokeshire’s most treasured environments and swept along on a wave of evocative imagery, poetry and live music.  

The next sharing event of Becoming Nature is on Wednesday 22nd May at Twr y Felin hotel, St David’s, Pembrokeshire. Please join me for a heartfelt evening of beautiful images, thoughtful words and blissful tunes from Glas Captains. The last two events were a sell out so book early. 

Tickets are £12 and limited to 40 spaces. Book here

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