Getting started may be a challenge but walking - even in a city! - provides a great opportunity to connect with nature and boost your health and happiness. Walking every day, and taking a photo on every walk can be great motivators and help you notice something new every day.

I have always lived in the London Borough of Bromley and have vivid childhood memories of Sunday afternoon walks in local woods and parks. I recently revisited the farmland around St Johns Church, West Wickham, which was my favourite walk, with stiles and kiss-gates and lovely views – all still there.

It was a combination of two unrelated events five years ago – my retirement from work and a diagnosis of MS – which really focussed my mind. I immediately decided my strategy would be to walk every day, and what better way than to combine this with discovering (or rediscovering) the open spaces near to where I lived. It became important to me to keep a record of the scenery and wildlife and so, with the ease of my iPad, I began to take pictures and post them on Twitter. I was very surprised and flattered to find that other people enjoyed these pictures, so I continued. Now, five years on, it’s become a pleasant obsession.

I assumed South Norwood Country Park was still a sewage works until I took the trouble to go and visit! It’s now an important - and very beautiful - nature reserve. Closest station: Elmers End.

My daily walks have made me more aware of nature and wildlife, kept my mind and body active and improved my physical and mental wellbeing. I’ve also made some new ‘park’ friends. If I’m feeling anxious or down I go to my favourite local park – Kelsey Park in Beckenham – and sit quietly with the Egyptian duck family or watch the steely stillness of a heron.

I find it very interesting to follow a species life-cycle in a particular park, watching the cygnets, ducklings and goslings grow up and have families of their own – and recognising them from one year to the next! Getting down to their level can produce some interesting shots. I now notice small things: even a bee or a dandelion puffball can fascinate me for ages! If nothing seems interesting ahead, I just look closer – or up – or down, there’s usually something to inspire.

I’ve discovered a variety of different parks. One day last year the view from my window across the Ravensbourne Valley inspired me to find the source of the River Ravensbourne. This took me to Keston Ponds, a beautiful place I had not visited since childhood. In the other direction the river flows through Beckenham Place Park, a huge area of parkland and ancient woodland. Walking with my friend’s dog, Rosie, introduced me to locations in the Chislehurst area – Hawkwood Estate and the beautiful Scadbury Park Nature Reserve are favourites (Rosie likes to jump in the ponds and rivers) – also Elmstead Wood and Petts Wood for shorter walks. (Kelsey Park and Beckenham Place Park can be reached from Beckenham Junction station, just 25 minutes by train from Victoria. The Hawkwood Estate and Petts Wood sit next to Chislehurst station.)

I’m interested in the way the weather affects nature and wildlife. One rainy day, walking between two parks, I noticed an interesting leaf on the rainy pavement. I was very surprised and delighted when BBC London used the picture for a weather bulletin! I’ve since had several park pictures used. I’m only an amateur and only use my iPad, but I do take care with composition.

Barbara's photos and daily walks can be found on Twitter at @skylark22BHC1

barbara fowlds 1 Rediscovering a favourite walk - 55 years later and still a lovely view. Wickham Court Farm, West Wickham.

barbara fowlds 4I never noticed so many bees on this shrub before.

Finding new ways of depicting rain can be an interesting challenge; but walking in the rain is always fun!Finding new ways of depicting rain can be an interesting challenge; but walking in the rain is always fun!

When you need a cheer-up-heron, one magically appears. When you need a cheer-up-heron, one magically appears.

barbara fowlds 5Just go where the path, or perhaps the dog, takes you. Here through the Hawkwood Estate in Chislehurst.

You’re different. You’re amazing. You see London as a National Park. This is your opportunity to share the love.

Most people don’t see the nature around them, don’t connect with it. They don’t benefit from the health and happiness that understanding about and immersion in, what’s around them, can bring

Take trees ….

Surveys have shown that 80% of people don’t recognise an ash tree and 70% of people can’t identify the trees on their street.

You’re different. You’re amazing. You don’t see the green wallpaper other people see. You can actually separate the trees from the wood. You can actually identify (some) trees!

But there’s something else going on:

Try this experiment: Next time you’re walking along your street, ask someone coming out of their house what the tree outside their house is. You’ll be amazed that when people say they don’t know (as they usually do) they nearly always add – ‘I’d really like to know.’

So here’s the thing:

There IS something you can do.

Take someone, a stranger even, to a tree you love, identify it, tell them about it and encourage them to take a closer look at it. You’ll be surprised at how happy sharing tree knowledge makes you – they’ll be surprised at how happy knowing about trees makes them.

… and with tree knowledge comes tree love.

Once we know and understand something we start to care about it

and when we care about it we start to look after it better

As we become tree champions we might start

  • watering young trees
  • looking out for pests and diseases
  • reporting damage
  • removing ties and stakes from young trees appropriately

Creating a local TiCL App tree trail is a simple way of pointing out, identifying and educating people about local trees. You don’t have to be a tree expert to create a tree trail. The trees on your street or in your local park are a good place to start – and yes – even you might have to mug up a bit!

As people look at your tree trail you will find that local interest and respect for trees increases. As well as connecting with trees physically they will connect with you and with each other virtually. With respect for the local trees comes love and respect for locality – you might notice less antisocial behaviour, less litter, more positive interactions with the neighbours …

and when we’re caring for ‘our’ environment and respecting each other more locally, we won’t have to worry so much about the world

and you’ll know that just by sharing your tree love

you did that – you’re amazing!

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