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The Secret to Happiness ….

When were you happiest? Simple question …but maybe not such a simple answer?

All of my ‘moments’ involve being out in the countryside. Early childhood memories come flooding back of building dams, mucking about in streams, catching my first trout. Moving on from there to climbing mountains with my dad, trips to Snowdon and Helvellyn, trips to the Lake District, walking round Iceland – seeing the wonders of the world.

As I got a little older the interest in girls kicks in and the hormones began to fire around – yet hazy though the memories are, I still associate much of my early experiences with the opposite sex to walks or visits to country parks. My first proper date with my wife was walking round Chatsworth House wandering through the grounds and explaining the design principles of Capability Brown to someone who was more interested in shoes and make up (…she hasn’t changed).

Having kids simply gave me an excuse to get out into the ‘wilds’ even more – with what we called ‘adventure walks’ – this involved dad picking a location to take the kids climbing trees, making dams, jumping in rivers and generally getting immersed in our beautiful British countryside. We collected frog spawn and watched it hatch into tadpoles and eventually released the little froglets into our pond. We had a pet newt which we kept for a week or so before releasing him/her (we couldn’t tell). We found hedgehogs, injured birds, abandoned ducklings, bats ….you name it we generally found one – not always alive – but generally worth a prod with a stick and a thorough inspection.

Rapidly coming up to date… I’m still happiest out on my mountain bike or fly fishing on some quiet river in the middle of nowhere. This type of recreation allows the batteries to re-charge and the head to clear – all of life’s crap just disappears whilst the brain absorbs the wonders of the natural world. Only last week I was cycling on the Haddon Estate when I saw wild deer not twenty feet away from me – I stopped took a picture then carried on riding – but riding on a wave of euphoria at having witnessed such a rare site.

But dear reader – much of what I hold precious is disappearing.

Many of the natural ‘wild’ areas that I used to visit around Glossop (my home town) just simply aren’t there anymore. The little streams and ponds where we collected frog spawn are now housing estates. The rivers and watercourses have been culverted or encased in concrete channels to ease flood risk and the wild life that we used to hold to precious just isn’t around anymore?? Bird numbers seem to have dwindled and when was the last time that you saw a hedgehog?? Badgers are still seen – but are dead – on the road side but the general impression one gets from the press is that these beautiful creatures are somehow bad.

The only thing we do see a lot of ….are grey squirrels – which we are now told are to be targeted with a contraceptive that will see their numbers dwindle from the millions to a few hundred thousand.

I am very lucky in that I do have a house out in the Derbyshire Peak District National Park and get to see a huge variety of birds and other wildlife that city dwellers just will not have the opportunity to experience.

I do however find myself just wondering what damage we are causing to our future generations.

Without the experiences that I hold so dear – would I be a different person?

Without the love of nature and all things wild – will our children’s children appreciate and value our countryside? Will they fight to save the muddy frog filled pond or the little copse of trees that the owl sits in ….or will they be living in a 3D virtual world where nothing ‘natural’ exists….??

….and will they ever be truly ‘happy’…

Mike C