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A wildlife haven is so much more than a Site of Special Scientific Interest


A few months ago I was blessed to find myself travelling in Nicaragua, a charming country relatively untouched by the blight of tourism.

The highlight of the trip for me was three days in Los Guatuzos, a wildlife refuge on the southern border with Costa Rica. It’s challenging to access, requiring a four hour boat trip from San Carlos, a small conurbation in the South East corner of the country, in itself somewhat off the beaten track.

We roomed in cabins by the water. My fifteen year old son sadly does not share my sense of adventure. He was unimpressed with the lengthy boat ride and the welcome party of caimans at the water’s edge, too close to our sleeping quarters for his comfort. The tarantula that had taken up residence on our doorstep was the last straw “I really hate you Mum, are you trying to kill me? This is meant to be a holiday.”.

That first evening we took a boat ride with our host, Armando, from Cabanas Caiman for what proved to be one of the most movingly magical experiences of my life. We drifted along the calm river without intrusion: we were the only tourists sojourning in the village and the locals had no reason to be on the water after dark. That in itself felt ethereal. However it was the sleeping birds that really moved me. We were so close to the branches on which the kingfishers slumbered that we could have touched them. And how often do you have the chance to see a hummingbird at rest?

In two heavenly hours beneath the stars I experienced the feeling of being at one with nature, an experience that has marked me indelibly. The thought that this is how the world was before we humans began exploiting it for our own ends is one which refuses to leave me in peace. Nature going about its daily, or nightly, life in harmonious balance.

Los Guatuzos is the sort of place that would be labelled a “site of special scientific interest” in England.

George Monbiot’s recent article in The Guardian: Forget ‘the environment’ we need words to convey life’s wonders commented that through this labelling scientists are somehow staking a claim that “this place is important because it is of interest to us”. But these places are important for so much more than scientific research. Monbiot continues  “If we called protected areas ‘places of natural wonder’, we would not only speak to people’s love of nature, but also establish an aspiration that conveys what they ought to be.”

The Rio Papaturo that August evening was most certainly a “place of natural wonder”.

My fifteen year old son dozed off for the second half of the boat ride “but we’ve already seen one kingfisher, what’s the point in stopping to admire a second and then a third?”