Re-animating Our Connection To Nature

One of the best of many connections to emerge from the projection events held last autumn at Loggerheads Country Park (HQ of the Clwydian Range and Dee Valley AONB) was with Ysgol Bryn Coch, Mold. You know you’ve got real interest and commitment when four members of staff come out on a Friday evening at the end of a long, hard week with COVID resurgent…

We know stuff you don’t…. (to learn what this rather strange puppet is for see the bottom of the page)

As a result, since then, with all 75 Year 5 pupils at the school (so three classes), we’ve been considering what (in broad twenty first century terms) is referred to as biodiversity loss. In other words, that which is now going and already gone from our landscape. Or more bluntly extinction; the reality of it on our doorstepthe science behind it, why it happens and – importantly – why we should harbour hope that we can rectify our negative impact if we choose to.

Reindeer bone excavated by John Blore from Lynx Cave on Bryn Alyn – around 13,000 years old, when the climate was MUCH cooler…

Biodiversity can be viewed either as the infinitesimally variable building blocks of life or the web of interdependency between them (depending on your philosophical viewpoint). Having hung many exhibitions I know that what makes a good wall is the shape of the space between the pictures – so I’m going with the latter; it’s all about relationships. In this web of connections between components, the more strands we remove, the more fragile the entire organism becomes. Eventually it disintegrates – but this occurs quite some time before all the threads disappear; the structure simply becomes unviable.

Lumbar vertebra of a lynx excavated by John Blore on Bryn Alyn. Carnivores are often keystone species – vital to maintaining ecological equilibrium – but we struggle to co-exist with them on our crowded islands…

Given its catastrophic impact, it’s curious that biodiversity loss (in which the UK leads the world) is so under-reported. What do we do about this?

The State Of Nature Report (2019) says; 

Simply put, humans don’t protect what they don’t know and value.


‘Connection to nature’ describes an individual’s relationship with nature and their perception of belonging to the wider natural community. Connection is a complex and multidimensional characteristic. Connection is not developed just through contact and simply getting people outside does not mean they will grow a wildflower or petition for nature. Instead, connection is made up of emotional, cognitive and behavioural aspects – feelings about nature, knowledge and actions.

Proto-animation in the classroom raises many questions and heightens both observation skills and an understanding of animal movement
Hyaenas, Bison and Giant Deer?!!!! Here? In Mold?! Yup…
Brought to life with a turn of the handle…

So, we’ve been using animation – in both digital and analogue guises and on small and medium scale – as a ‘bridge-building’ mechanism to the natural world which speaks to the ‘emotional, cognitive and behavioural’. And when we say ‘animation’ we’re referring not just to moving images but the narratives they convey and the feelings these elicit. ‘Animation’ is story-telling. And, more specifically, within this particular process we are also drawing on a whole pile of neuroscientific research relating to the physiological impact of fractals – both in nature itself and in the constructed imagery in focus.

And in the digital realm, spin the wheel….
…and the hyaena roams the hills once more…. (in the imagination at least)

In contemplating a timeframe beyond our fleeting moment, we begin to see a nuanced, complex picture of constant flux which can’t be summarised in a tweet or snappy three word slogan apart from maybe ‘change is constant’ – which doesn’t really begin to cover it. And we become aware of great forces that are quite simply bigger than us. If we’re honest this is all contrary to the foundation ethos of modern society, mind-blowing in scope – and therefore takes a bit of processing. And so perhaps the meditative and intensely-focussed universe of animation as a process can take us to a headspace in which we can come to terms with it all.

The mountain hare is our indigenous hare, the brown hare a much more recent introduction. Does that make the brown hare, magical symbol of our countryside, an introduced or alien species? At what point does something become indigenous?

We might place all this under the blankets of critical thought and cynefin – and it’s just great that there is now room for both within the enlightened new creative curriculum. But it’s also important to note that these narratives are to considerable degree founded in science which, in showing us what did happen also enlightens us as to what will happen right here at home.

Should we bring the lynx back if it too is indigenous? Some say yes, some say no…
…and what about something even bigger? We’re all going on a bear hunt…
And can the digital world form an effective portal to the natural one?

And again – because it’s really important – we’ve been exploring stories of hope because we can and do make a difference when we choose to.

All this (provided it resonates – and animation as a ‘magic’ medium does strike a chord) inevitably escapes from the classroom and ends up being discussed at home.

And so when the opportunity to share the magic comes, entire families – led by the children rather than their parents – venture out into a landscape that is at once familiar yet redolent with hitherto hidden stories of wonder and surprise, loss and hope. Here, these are conveyed not by experts or measurable ‘fact-telling’ but through the energy of the young minds and bodies themselves – and through the sensuous vocabularies of colour, texture, sound and music which artists understand but don’t necessarily convey a prescribed ‘factual’ meaning. Rather, in connecting to and amplifying the surfaces, sounds and movement of the environment, they invite the participant to bring their own lived experience to the moment – so as to foster deep and enduring personal connection.

A community bear hunt!
… with Megaloceros giganteus the quarry too…
… but maybe the ghostly scimitar-toothed cat is pursuing us!
That mountain hare again – but on a whole different scale…
Parents – hoping to be granted insight as to the mysteries of the beasts by their children…
…. who place candles in memory of creatures once here, now gone, whose descendants now largely inhabit warmer climes – from which they too are now disappearing…

And thus the adventure becomes a collective memory – anchored to a secret location in the woods. Those who share the memory are bound together; a community founded on itplace is made which, whenever we pass through it, raises ghosts of the experience. And these animal spirits – spectres whose re-animated physical remains speak powerfully of other ephemeral habitations – once more ask questions of what we have lost, what might return (or not) over the millennia-to-come – and why all this really matters.

Warming sustenance prepared earlier in school…
Served up by Mr Williams and staff (and AONB Ranger Imogen)
Preparing the ‘kitchen’….
In the 3D cinema in the woods that AONB Ranger Saul built from parachute cord…
…which is now just a memory.

The answer to the mystery at the top: it’s a tool used in the crane ‘puppet rearing technique’ as part of the reintroduction project (see Cranes are now back in Wales after an absence of centuries – because we can do good stuff when we put our minds to it

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