What bears do in the woods

Yesterday I watched brown bears hanging out in an English wood, doing the sorts of things bears like to do. One was using a tree trunk as a pillow. Another got in a large pond and messed about for some time. There was tree climbing, leaf eating, and sauntering about. At times, they were a matter of yards from me.

We haven’t had wild bears in the UK for more than a thousand years, and when people talk about re-wilding, they don’t tend to mention bears. We know bears in the Americas do all kinds of exciting things for trees –particularly because they feed salmon remains to them. We don’t know what UK bears did for trees and what we are missing, but maybe this project will help us find out.

The project in question is Bear Wood at The Wild Place near Bristol. The website – https://www.wildplace.org.uk/ much like the place itself is set up as a family attraction and there’s not much information I could easily find about what’s going on beneath the surface. I gleaned some details from boards at the site.

I have very mixed feelings about all this. For me, encountering bears in this way, was a powerful and moving experience. For some of the other people there, it was clearly the same, and the excitement of spotting creatures – bears, wolverine, lynx and wolves – in a woodland environment clearly had a high impact on some of the visitors. Seeing wolves appear and disappear amongst the undergrowth is a wonderful thing. As a setup, these larger spaces with humans at the margins and animals not so immediately available may help to de-comodify the creatures and return a sense of wonder to the people looking for them.

But at the same time, the play areas and activities here and at other wildlife attractions will encourage some people to see nature as toys for their amusement and creatures as amusements for their benefit. For many of the visitors, it was a place to run round and shout, with no care or respect and no parental guidance. There were plenty of parents who were noisy and who I found deeply annoying in their attitude. I go through this every time I visit the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust site in Slimbridge as well. People who have no experience of nature are unlikely to cherish it, but people whose experience is of amusement and commodity probably won’t do much cherishing either, and I don’t know how you turn careless visitors into people who are awake to the wonder of what they’re seeing.

Exposing children to ‘nature’ does not automatically make them nature lovers. Not if they see it as stuff to break and trample on, throw things at, litter, damage and exploit. Without guidance, outside is just often just one big resource to use and wild things are just toys.

I’ve come away from this with a deep longing for bears. I had no real sense, until now, of what the absence of bears in woodland really looks like. Having seen bears, I will see where the bears are not in a way that is probably going to haunt me. I’m fine with that.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

5 responses to “What bears do in the woods

  • Yewtree

    I was camping in Cornwall with my Canadian partner in 2013, and I threw away the dregs of my tea in the approved manner for British camping: in an arc so as not to make a puddle.

    “Don’t do that, the bears will come!” said Bob.

    “There aren’t any bears in Cornwall,” I said. And then I said, “If ever we go camping in Canada, I am not going to move hand or foot unless you say it is safe to do so.”

    Apparently bears like sweet stuff, so the sugars in the tea would attract them (I don’t take sugar in my tea so they must like lactose).

  • Donnalee of Woodstock NY

    Last week or so at about sunset, a big brown bear, maybe 300 pounds in weight, came to our back patio (here near Woodstock NY in the US), and plopped casually onto the cement patio where I feed the birds and squirrels and chipmunks and everyone else who shows up–deer, raccoons, woodchucks, whatever. He lounged for a good half-hour sucking up the millet and sunflower seeds on the ground, ignored the few carrots, and then went off peacefully. Since they can run 30 miles an hour, I was glad to be inside behind glass doors, but I put a curtain down on one side so it was really clear to him that it was not a clear exit–I also keep a wooden laundry-drying rack in front of those windows with a few little things on it so deer and others know it is not clear air, and also have a few ribbons hanging down do the birds can see them too. The back of the bear walking on all fours was about to the waist of a person five and a half feet or so, and the next day more bears came: a much smaller one with scruffy tufts near the waist, looking almost too small to be the mate, and three cubs, which stood upright like little characters leaning on lamposts, maybe shoulder-high to that same person. The cubs climbed trees and nibbles on a Rose of Sharon that they decided didn’t taste good, and they as a group found it less fun than the other bear, and moved on more quickly. It was really good to see them, but I am glad they don’t make a habit of it. I suspect it was because I had started to throw cherries out in the yard as a sort of offering, but I no longer do that. The carrots and little tomatoes and zucchini do not seem to attract them at all.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: