The ‘Wannabe’ Naturalist

Having always been an ‘outdoor’ person, I liked nature, being surrounded by it and noticing and observing it.  Sometimes I might have felt compelled to try and work out what something was, but Googling things like ‘small pink wildflower’, or ‘beetle in woods UK’ and scrolling through pages of images looking for a match would quash the enthusiasm of all but the most determined and reference books were daunting – where do you even start?  Without an expert guide to learn from I just accepted I might find something I thought interesting but would be very unlikely to find out what it was.

I then joined Friends of Quantock as a project officer and Robin Stamp asked if I had come across iNaturalist before, I hadn’t but little did I know what it would reveal…

I downloaded the app and decided I would go on a walk through the local fields armed with my camera phone looking for insects as I didn’t know many different species. 

Firstly I was amazed at the abundance of insects when I actually took my time and looked for them. Secondly when I really looked at these insects up close, some were beautiful and some were like alien beings; completely fascinating, with weird body parts, scorpion type tails, scary looking ‘pincers’, ‘beaks’ or ‘stings’. Even better they really didn’t seem to mind a camera phone almost touching them for a photo.  Finally, I was blown away when I could actually identify what these things were simply by adding the photo to the iNaturalist app.

This was a game changer.  My walks were no longer just walks, every time I go out I can identify and learn about new things I see, from insects, to plants, to fungi, lichen and so much more.  Over 600 observations made and I can still find something new nearly every time I go out.  What better place to do this than the Quantocks?  Of course the app or my identifications from the suggestions are not going to be without fault, but there is wonderful community of knowledgeable people who will sometimes verify your observations or correct them, and each time you learn more.  I also now have a starting point if I would like to learn more about a certain thing, I can Google a species name, or things that look similar.

I get a buzz from finding a species that has not yet been recorded in our area and knowing this information might at some point in the future play a part in our understanding of the local biodiversity, and of course it automatically all feeds into the Quantock Wildlife Watch project.  I can now identify some of the more common species locally without looking them up which is so rewarding.  

I’ve noticed things I never would have before like green hairstreak butterflies, beautiful oysterling and bolete mushrooms, tiny moss-ear fungi, barnacle and string-of-sausage lichens, different beetles and differentiating features, wild plants I’ve waked by for years having no idea what they are and so much more.  I’m finding the nature inspiring and taking joy from sharing that with my children; top of my 6 year old daughter’s Christmas list was a moth light trap which we can’t wait to start using and seeing what magical night time wonders we uncover.

It is also a joy to take a look what other people are finding on the Quantocks, it is such a quick way of learning what to look out for and satisfying when you see the same and know what it is.  The project view on the app gives thumbnail images of what people have photographed so it’s great for scrolling and just selecting what might take your interest to find out where it was seen; there are so many weird and wonderful things for those that that are learning.  The map view can show you what people might have found in and around where you live, each coloured pin is an observation you can click on and see what it is.  You might be surprised!

My walks might take longer or I may not always cover so much ground, but I see so much more, I appreciate so much more, I’ve learnt so much more and as a result I feel more connected. Why not give it a try?  There’s even a guide on our website under Quantock Wildlife Watch to help you.

Written by Zoe Hicks