Article and images by Danielle Outram, conservation partnerships officer, Sunshine Coast Council
Imagine you are a young Charles Darwin about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime aboard the HMS Beagle. A journey that would lead to the single greatest contribution to biological science in history, the theory of evolution by natural selection.
How are you going to record your fascinating observations from the Galapagos, South America, Australia and Africa? Observations that formed important data that would change the world.
There’s only so much room on a small ship for specimens. It’s the 1830s; the word ‘photography’ hasn’t even been invented yet, let alone computers and smart phones (not to mention the reception would be terrible!).
Nature journaling, I hear you say? Well, you’d be right. But what exactly is nature journaling?
In my undergraduate degree I was lucky enough to receive a scholarship to study Asian rainforest ecology in Borneo. I was beyond excited to say the least.
However, I was not excited to learn our primary assignment was a journal of our field studies.
“Ugh, are we supposed to write about our feelings about the forest? I hate feelings!” I moaned to my friend on the plane.
Fortunately nature journaling turned out to be much more than my initial impression and I would grow to love it, nowadays using the skill almost daily.
Local nature journaling enthusiast and teacher Paula Peeters describes nature journaling as “...the practice of drawing or writing in response to observations of nature. This practice results in the creation of your own unique nature journal.”
Paula also describes the many benefits of nature journaling.
“The practice slows you down, increases your mindfulness (or clears your mind), and increases your attention to detail and appreciation of beauty."
“It helps you to notice the details in nature, and improves your recognition of different species, and your understanding of where and how they live."
“With time, it also improves your ability to observe, to draw and to write."
“It allows you to spend time in nature just sitting or standing quietly, and being. When you are quiet and still, the animals become less scared, and sometimes forget you are there."
“Often you will get to observe animal behaviours that most people don’t get to see, because those people are too hasty, too noisy, or are distracted by something else.”
Paula recently taught a number of workshops for land for wildlife (LFW) members as well as the broader community as part of the Mary Cairncross BioBlitz. Paula was quick to reassure everyone that nature journaling was not about drawing a masterpiece to be featured in a gallery, but rather a way of appreciating and learning about the finer details of nature that we often don’t see when out in the forest.
Just as we learn to drive and as one can be taught to write, so it is as well with drawing - there’s no such thing as ‘I can’t draw,’ but rather ‘I’m learning to draw.’ Check out the pictures below from one of Paula’s workshops.
Personally, I started to get serious about nature journaling not long after earning my undergraduate degree.
I was passionate about reef ecology and conservation and would snorkel and free dive for hours on end when I could. Despite being a relatively gifted photographer, I just couldn’t capture the detail and vibrancy of the reef on film, so I started to paint.
Every evening after a day of diving I would scribble down as much as I could remember in words and sketches, later to be transferred onto canvas.
These days when I’m having a forgetful moment, I will hastily scribble a sketch of a leaf showing the details of its margins, domatia, veination, leaf base/apex with a few scribbled notes about scent or sap. This is helpful when I know what something is but can’t think of its name.
I suspect dozens and dozens of LFW members have watched me do this out in the field and wondered what I’m jotting down. I’ve found it to be such a handy and enjoyable tool.
If you would like to learn more about nature journaling, I highly recommend taking a look at Paula’s website. Additionally if you are on Facebook, you can join the Nature Journaling Australia group for lots of tips and inspiration.
For opportunities to use your nature journaling skills with council, explore one of our environmental education centres, set off on an Adventure Sunshine Coast activity, or volunteer at a BushCare working bee. You can find all these and more through council's website.