A couple of weeks ago Stephen Moss wrote a guest blog here about the National Trust report, Natural Childhood, (which he wrote) which discusses the lack of connection between children and nature. Did you read the full report – it’s well worth it if you didn’t and it is quite short.
Now the National Trust has published its follow-up – 50 things to do before you are 11 3/4. I had a look at the list and reckon I had done 45 of them before I was 11 3/4 but have to admit that I was 11 3/4 before geocaching was invented! They aren’t a bad list at all although the list is so hedged with health and safety warnings that it makes it seem a little un-wild. I did particularly like the advice on rolling down hills. You should, apparently, choose hills with gentle slopes – how cissy is that? And avoid those where livestock have recently been – although it doesn’t tell you that it’s the cow shit that you should avoid rather than the cows.
This is well meaning stuff and I hope it has an impact (and I hope it wasn’t simply designed to capture my email address (yet again)).
Personally I would like to see Cameron, Clegg and Miliband collecting frog spawn, catching butterflies, rolling down hills (however steep and however recently grazed) and catching crabs (!). I wonder how they would get on? I suspect that Cameron and Clegg might feel a little more comfortable in the countryside than Miliband – what do you think?
I looked at the list and thought that I’d still like to do all of them – the idea that they are childish things is wrong. If Francis Maude, Eric Pickles and George Osborne spent more of their time, now, on night hikes or canoeing down rivers they might do less damage to our natural environment.
What I think is slightly underplayed in the NT report – just to show that I have read it and thought a little about it – is the role of adults in encouraging children’s interest in nature. Yes, we may be too worried that children will meet dangerous strangers if they are left to roam the countryside as I was able in my youth – either across the fields near our house or later on my bicycle through the country lanes to watch birds at Chew Valley Lake – but I benefitted from the encouragement of adults when I was getting interested in nature between the ages of 9 and 11 (after that I was completely hooked). My parents encouraged me in my interest in natural history – by which I don’t mean that they pushed me in that direction but seeing that I was heading in that direction they did things to make the journey easier like buy me binoculars and books and take me to places where I could see birds and other wildlife.
And two school masters were also incredibly important in giving opportunities to a bunch of teenage Grammar School boys to go birdwatching.
What were the influences in your early years?
You can read a little more about what influenced me when my book, Fighting for birds – 25 years in nature conservation, comes out in August.
And isn’t it interesting how you are voting in the polls of ‘loves’ and ‘hates’ of nature NGOs – look at how the National Trust is doing in each poll.