Sensing nature differently with Bryan Kilburn

11 October 2021 | Posted in Emma Chaplin
Sensing nature differently with Bryan Kilburn
Bryan, Clara and Samuel Kilburn by Kimi Kilburn

Tell us about yourself

I'm 45. I was born in Hampshire near where the army bases are, so lots of woodlands. Aged 18 I lost my sight when I developed a brain tumour. I went to university in Hindhead to train as a ROVI - Rehabilitation Officer Visual Impairment, which is an OT for blind people. Twenty years ago I met my wife Kimi and we moved to Bexhill, where her family's from. We have two children, Clara aged seven and Samuel aged four.

My first job was at Redhill for the RNIB, then I got a job at St Dunstan's, now called Blind Veterans UK. I like being outdoors, walking, camping, being in the woods.

How does nature play a role in your life?

I had problems with depression, and found being outside was like mental nutrition. I'm happy sitting by a stream, on the beach or in the woods. I hear the water movement, the pebbles moving. It's music to the soul. What I like about camping is cooking over an open fire and the fact that, at night-time, when people who can see might find the woods scary, I find them safe and comforting. They can't see any more than me. I love hearing the sound of creatures outside and even burrowing under the tent.

I find solace sitting in the woods and my family and I love spending time together there too.

I'm very sensitive to movement and love the feel and atmosphere of nature. The sense of mist in the morning by a lake, the smell of petrichor.

I can see bright colours especially blue with the little vision I have at the extreme left of one eye, and once when I was fishing, a Kingfisher landed on my fishing rod and it was extraordinary.

I enjoy gardening, especially growing vegetables. I've got blue pots in the corners of the garden because I can see them. I plant really big things and bright colours. Cucumber vines and rhubarb leaves make me feel as if I'm in a jungle or rainforest. On a rainy day especially.

What wildlife do you most enjoy?

In Hampshire where I grew up, you get all seven species of reptile including the Natterjack Toad. 

Bats, listening at dusk, hearing fish jumping for flies. Birds dipping down and skimming off the water. The chuckling noise that badgers make. I really like the feel of different tree barks. Iā€™m not a 'tree hugger' but have always enjoyed being around them. I loved being a Cub and when I was 10, the leaders took us on a bush walk to see some badgers. It was amazing.

Are there any Sussex Wildlife Trust nature reserves that you visit?

I like Rye Harbour Nature Reserve. I'm fascinated by the pillboxes.

Is there anything Sussex Wildlife Trust could do to improve your visits?

Sight loss isn't just about using hearing instead. Younger people with sight loss especially use Haptic technology or kineasthetics (sensing through touch or pressure change).

Having said that, what I really enjoy is when I can get an audio guide. I can go round on my own. I like things that are laid out logically, such as having benches configured in a similar way, for example, and if you have litter bins nearby, always having them in the same place. In bird hides, have big pictures of what you might see, with the sounds I need to listen out for alongside. If you have QR codes, my phone can read them out, but I need to know they are there in the first place. I'd ideally like a big disc with the QR code in the middle at each site.


  • Grace Mitchell:

    15 Oct 2021 09:47:00

    Bryan you have certainly inspired me. I am slowly loosing my sight to AMD (Age Related Macular Degeneration) and although in the earlier stages, I was concerned how I would still enjoy my jaunts into the woods with my grandchildren. Thank you for giving me the courage and incentive to continue with my love of nature and woodlands.

  • Melinda Dixon:

    15 Oct 2021 21:24:00

    Bryan. I have never ceased to be amazed by your agility and scope when dealing with vision impairement. Great to see you giving advice to Sussex Wildlife Trust and demonstrating that being vision impaired doesnt stop you embracing nature. Working with you and others at Blind Veterans demonstrated just how much can be achieved. Onwards and upwards Bryan.

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