Why we travel: Kate Bradbury on why Costa Rica should be a blueprint for conservation

Reflecting on a trip to Central America, the TV presenter wonders what the UK would look like if it invested in the natural world as much as Costa Rica does.

Thursday, July 2, 2020,
By Kate Bradbury
Costa Rica is a place prized for its pristine rainforest and abundant wildlife.

Costa Rica is a place prized for its pristine rainforest and abundant wildlife.

Photograph by Alamy

As a wildlife gardener, I’m fascinated by plants and wildlife. I’m happiest among trees — be they the woodlands of Britain or the jungles of the tropics. I love seeing how different plants grow, how ecosystems work, and I can spend hours just sitting and listening to the sounds of the forest.

Some of this love for woodland percolates down into the way I garden. Mimicking the woodland glade, I grow layers of native trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants to create a web, or food chain for wildlife to feed from and live among. If all of us gardened for wildlife, we could create a network of mini forests outside our back door, all over the world. 

For this reason, I was desperate to visit Costa Rica, a place prized for its pristine rainforest and abundant wildlife. I wanted to immerse myself in jungle life, looking out for rainbow-coloured birds, elusive sloths and howler monkeys as I journeyed through the rainforest.

“Costa Rica taught me hope. The cities are busy, the beaches packed with tourists, but everything else is still alive with nature.”

by Kate Bradbury

I finally began with a trip along the Osa Peninsula, a large swathe of rainforest in the southernmost region, where jaguars and tapirs roam and access to humans is limited. I stayed in wooden lodges — open to the elements — and fell asleep at night to the sound of bats flitting around me. I took a seven-hour jungle tour with a guide, where we found tropical birds, trees that had been ‘eaten inside out’ by parasitic vines and listened to the calls of howler monkeys; I loved the howler monkeys most of all.

From the Osa Peninsula, I travelled north to Costa Rica’s cloud forest — a very different type of forest to that which most of us are accustomed to. It sits at a higher altitude than rainforest, literally in the clouds. Here, I found very different sorts of creatures, too: sloths and hummingbirds, as well as marvellous curtains of moss and epiphytes that hung from the trees. 

In contrast with the rest of the world, Costa Rica is investing in its forests. It leads our planet in areas of sustainability and biodiversity, and plans to be carbon neutral by 2050. After years of deforestation, it’s working to recover land with trees and has doubled the nation’s forested areas in the past 30 years. 

At home, I strive to encourage gardeners to make habitats for wildlife, to help compensate for the degradation of British countryside and the loss of habitats like woodland. Sometimes, I feel I’m fighting a battle I’ll never win, that no amount of wildlife gardening will compensate for the gradual depletion of our natural world. 

But Costa Rica taught me hope. The cities are still busy, the beaches that remain might be filled with tourists, but everything else is alive with nature. Imagine, if we invested in the natural world as much as Costa Rica does, what could our country look like?

TV presenter and author, Kate Bradbury’s latest books include The Bumblebee Flies Anyway, and Wildlife Gardening for Everyone and Everything, published by Bloomsbury. Follow @Kate_Bradbury on Twitter.

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