The Art of the Nature Detective
Tracking is an art – the art of nature detection – which brings us closer to nature, connecting with it in a way that allows us to see more. With training and experience we can all become competent trackers – trackers who experience more of nature, and trackers contributing to nature conservation.
Tracking is about reading or interpreting the signs left behind by animals which allows the tracker to get an intimate look at what a particular animal gets up to, and to develop a better understanding of its ecology and behaviour. Every animal leaves a trace as it passes through the environment, traces that the tracker or nature detective can find and read. This brings us closer to nature – deepens our connection with it, and it is an invaluable tool for wildlife managers, conservationists and ecologists to develop a picture of what occurs where and when, doing what. The tracker is the ultimate low-tech rapid assessment tool.
Tracking is a specialized profession in some parts of the world (such as Africa and North America), where trackers are involved in research, monitoring, conservation and ecotourism. The value of tracking is increasingly being recognized across Europe where conservation practitioners, ecologists, wildlife managers and others all use aspects of it. CyberTracker Evaluations provide an objective test of observer reliability and are widely accepted across Africa, North America and Europe as the standard means by which to determine and grade a tracker’s level of expertise. Due to its effectiveness as a fair and representative measure of tracking ability, it is also a superb educational tool. Tracker Evaluations in the UK are run by John Rhyder at Woodcraft School.
To get good at tracking requires “dirt time” – time experiencing the full diversity of tracks and signs left by animals on the landscape. Tracking is a learning journey like no other, and one of the joys of tracking is the constant stream of questions arising from every experience. Training can help answer these questions, and may open the door to others, enabling an ever deeper understanding of the nature around us. Among the bushman tribes of southern Africa, tracking was learnt through story telling, and the ethos in the field was one of sharing, discussion and consensus on the story unfolding in front of the trackers. You will find this same ethos of equality and sharing on the Woodcraft School courses, and my Training days and Mentoring, details of which are outlined in the Teaching page.