Don't Know What You've Got
If you’re one of the many people who, every morning, eagerly goes online to check whether Steve Brown’s updated his blog, then these last few months have been a difficult time for you. Sorry to keep you waiting. I hope this is worth the wait.
I’d like to share some thoughts on my recent series, Blue Planet UK. The series is a tour of the UK’s coastal areas, an examination of the wildlife that lives there and a warning about some of the things that threaten that wildlife. Filming the show made me think about how lucky we are to live in the UK and to have this abundance of natural treasures at our fingertips. It also made me think about how blind we are to our own luck. We dream of scuba-diving in the Caribbean, snorkelling in the Maldives or whale-watching in Canada. At the same time, we overlook the wonders that exist on our own shoreline, most of which are easily accessible to us.
You want starfish? We’ve got them! You want seahorses? We’ve got them! You want coral reefs? We’ve got them! All of these are creatures that you’d probably expect to find in the tropics, not in dreary old Britain. In fact, the programme tested this by showing some of Kirsty Andrews’s underwater photos to members of the public and asking them to guess where the pictures had been taken. Almost all of the people asked were astonished to discover that the photographs were taken in UK waters.
And how about the sharks? We’ve got loads of them! Blue sharks! Angel sharks! Basking sharks! In Episode 3, I took a family outing to the Isle of Sheppey, where we hunted for fossilised sharks’ teeth (with keen eyes they’re not hard to find). The teeth we found are millions of years old. The marine marvels we have in the UK are not only varied and surprising, they’re often unimaginably ancient as well. But we fail to recognise any of this. We’re like the Lion, the Scarecrow and the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz, wishing for courage, a brain and a heart but not realising that we already have the things we want.
Thinking about nature in this way made me think about a more general point. We all forget the value of what we have because we’re too busy wanting other stuff. Like Epicurus said, there’s probably some part of your life that’s exactly how you once wished it would be. Maybe you’ve got the social life you always wanted, the house you always pictured, the relationship you always longed for or the career you always craved. You were probably thrilled, at first, to have that thing. Then, as people do, you just got used to having it; you stopped appreciating your own good fortune and started pondering how things could be better. Maybe now, from time to time, you imagine yourself with funnier friends, a fancier house, a more exciting relationship or a higher-paid job. That’s fine. Everybody thinks like that and, to some extent, we need to think like that (otherwise, we’d never progress in our lives). But if all you ever feel is desire and dissatisfaction, you won’t leave any space in your mind for happiness.
Sometimes, it takes losing something to make us understand how valuable it really was to us. This is true of personal things like our jobs, homes and, especially, our loved ones. It’s also true of something that we all share - our environment. A recurring topic of the series was the damage that we’re doing to our own patch of the Earth: the fabrics and microplastics that are washing into our waters; the trawling that damages ecosystems and results in overfishing; the ghost nets that are ensnaring marine species. However, what’s really important to remember is that there are ways (some of them easy) in which we can reduce the impact we have. If you like, you can read and follow my personal tips. The programme featured numerous people and groups who are already working hard to preserve our coastal ecosystems. To pick just three:
Odyssey Innovation - Removes plastics from the sea and recycles them to construct kayaks.
Shark Stuff - Engages in research and education projects to help protect the UK’s shark populations.
Marine Conservation Society - Administers various programmes for the protection of the UK’s coastal environment and marine life. I’d like to direct your attention to the Great British Beach Clean and encourage you to join it this year.
For more ways that you can get involved in ocean conservation, take a look here. Please get involved. Be a part of the efforts that are already underway. We’re blessed to live in a beautiful part of a beautiful world - let’s not take that for granted.