What is Nature Journaling?

 

Journaling is keeping a record of observations, experiences, thoughts and feelings, plus whatever you wish. You make

entries on a regular basis, as in a diary, or for a specific event like a travel journal.

Nature journaling is hand recording your

  • observations,

  • thoughts and

  • feelings

    ...  while experiencing nature.

Nature journaling is a process.

Hand recording slows your pace. It helps your playful curiosity to notice nature's individuals, places, and patterns. It is an activity that engages all of you. You more deeply understand our place as an integral part of nature. This is the nature journaler's pace. 

Nature journals are the product. They are what you have in your hands at the end of the process of nature journaling. Nature journals are created entry by entry, page by page.

Anatomy of a Nature Journal Entry

What are the parts that make up a nature journal entry? 

Where:             Name of Place

When:              Date and Time

Conditions:      Current weather 

Observations:  What you noticed or experienced. A description of what "I notice ..."

Reflections:     What questions and thoughts you have. "I wonder ...."

Associations:   "This reminds me of..." 

Additional information from research on identification, what is written about the species or behaviour, comparisons to similar species, etc.

Example of a nature journal entry

Weather

Our Garden

Where = Place, location

I Notice = Observation 

Recorded in words

I Notice = Observation Recorded with drawing

Information from reference books 

Date + Time

When =

Page from Thembani Luthuli's nature journal

Nature Journaling by Other Names
You may already be nature journaling, but call it something else.

 

 

 

 

For example, do you keep lists of:

  • birds, butterflies or other animals?

  • trees or other plants?

  • mushrooms and other fungi?

Do you sketch plants, animals, scenery?

Do you keep travel journals? 

Do you make notes about changes in your garden during the year?

These activities are all forms of nature journaling. You can take these activities to another level by slowing down to a nature journaler's pace. You can make a step towards this by including the location, date and time on each page.

When you have a few more minutes, you can:

  • Make reference notes for photos

  • Add words to images like labels, colour notes, descriptions of smells 

  • Count plant parts

  • Estimate cloud cover

  • Notes on what surprised you, info shared by others, observations that you want to follow-up on.

 

 

 

Myths and Misperceptions 

You may come across many ideas about what makes a nature journal - a nature journal. Some people make firm distinctions between nature journaling and other forms of journaling, sketchbooks, travel journals, notebooks, scrapbooks, or other records. However, there are no rules, except the ones you make for yourself.

There is not a right or a wrong way to nature journal.  There is only what helps or hinders your practice. What brings you joy, and deepens your connection to nature?

You may have ideas about nature and nature journaling that makes it seem out of reach. You may have heard, or in future you may, see comments, instruction or guidelines that set boundaries that limit you. Some of these are presented below.

 

​1. "Nature is only found in iconic places, like Kruger Park, or nature reserves."

Nature is everywhere. It can be found in urban areas, around homes, schools and places of work. You do not have to travel, or travel far, to find nature. You do not have to pay money to experience nature or nature-rich spaces. Check out Places in South Africa for suggestions.

2. "Nature journaling must be done outdoors." 

People are not separate from nature. We are part of nature, though we may be more comfortable thinking of ourselves as distinct from the natural world. ​

Nature is not separate from our living spaces. Look around you. Moths, songololos, and ants find their way inside. Waiting rooms often have plants. Windows may give views of the outdoors. Shadows play on pavements. The wind blows between homes and down streets. Look up, day and night, the sky is always present.

​If you have access to the internet, you can watch videos or webcams. See some of the options in our Library.​

3. "Never work from photos, only from real life."

For some professional botanical illustrators, this is an unbreakable rule. It can work its way into your approach. However, for nature journaling, you make your own rules.

Photos are useful records to supplement your handwritten notes. Photos and other recordings are useful references for nature journaling later, as well as for other projects. Photos and other recordings have many uses including for sharing as part of citizen science projects.

If you already take photos of nature, add a notebook to your field kit so that you can record additional information about your photos. Also, you may not have time to stop and record everything by hand.  ​

 

They are not the same as three-dimensional (3D) reality. Keep in mind that photos flatten what we see with our eyes from 3D to 2D. They may distort colour, angles and values. However, they can also be enlarged on screen. This allows you to view small details that you cannot see with the unaided eye. They can also quickly record context for an observation. 

If you want to use photos from the internet, look at one of the websites listed in the Library. These are collections for which the photographers have given their permission for their images to be used freely.​

​4.  “Only certain content can be included in a nature journal.” 

What can you include in your nature journal? The simple answer is anything you want. Your nature journal can be part of a notebook that you use for all purposes, including to-do lists, contact details, random thoughts, integrated into your personal diary. You get the idea.

Paula Peeters says, “Mine ranges from the personal to the scientific, from records of facts and realistic images to the imagined beasts, scenes, and stories. And many things in-between.” in "Make a Date with Nature: Introduction to nature journaling', page 4.

Download and print a copy of                                                                        .

You may want to reduce it in size. Then tape it into the cover of your nature journal.

5. “Nature Journaling takes a lot of time.”

Many nature journalers find that they can enjoy the benefits of nature journaling even if they only have 10 minutes. You do not need long stretches of time. You do need to make nature journaling a priority. Tips on how to find the time are shared here in Make it a Habit.

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Part of page from

Cati Vawda nature journal

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