The golden days
As a child growing up in the ‘80s and ‘90s my free time revolved around the fields, hedgerows, woodlands and streams to the rear of our house. I’d eagerly anticipate the end of the school day so I could investigate the stream bed; marvelling at the caddisfly larvae constructing their miniature masterpieces that clung to underside of rocks, trying to catch the Stone Loaches (either by hand or net) that would often shoot out from beneath their hiding places or (more often successfully) the Bullheads that were always much more lethargic.
I would occasionally dream of catching the seemingly huge Brown Trout that lurked in the depths of the deepest pool, only rarely glimpsed as he (or she) surfaced to claim an emerging Mayfly that may have waited two years to escape from its watery world only to be skimmed from the surface within seconds of emerging.
I would occasionally dream of catching the seemingly huge Brown Trout that lurked in the depths of the deepest pool, only rarely glimpsed as he (or she) surfaced to claim an emerging Mayfly
Weekends in the summer were spent searching hedgerows for birds nests, trying to find a new spot for a rope swing, climbing trees or making bows and arrows out of Hazel before returning home impossibly dirty just in time for supper, feeling tired, happy and invariably intrigued.
Fast-forward to present day and now I’m a parent, fondly remembering those hours whiled away with friends, or more often in solitude, enjoying the countryside. That is when, and where, my passion for wildlife began.
So, why do my children (who are now nine and four) ask to watch television and play on computers, rather than seek the enjoyment of the outside world that so fascinated me?
Could I do more to persuade them that there is more to life than a television or computer screen?
Questions that I’m sure all parents with a passion for nature struggle with, and questions to which there are no simple answers.
As soon as my children were born I immediately tried to immerse them in nature; camping, reading them my favourite nature books at bedtime, taking them to my favourite wildlife sites and showing them some of the species that I thought would fascinate and engage them – Otters, Kingfishers, seals and many others.
By the time my son was three or four he was developing a burgeoning interest; he asked for binoculars for Christmas, started reading wildlife related books and started his own lists of species seen in the garden and further afield.
I took him to explore the hedgerows that I was so familiar with as a child (depressingly, only to find that the once abundant Yellowhammers and Linnets had all but vanished, along with many of the hedgerows) and we went to catch Stone Loaches and Bullheads in the very same steam that enthralled me as a child (only to discover that housing development had resulted in the sedimentation of the stream and the complete absence of fish).
Despite some setbacks, it appeared he was following the path I so wanted him to.
But, then he reached five years of age, and started at school. Now, when he returns home from school the front door of our house is shut and with it the door to the wildlife experiences and discoveries available to him. He is not getting the opportunity to develop his own interests, make his own discoveries and make those wildlife related memories that last a lifetime.
Connecting the next generation
For any parent the safety of their children is the single most important thing. We now live in a world where the media have created a perceived environment that is apparently not fit for kids to play in alone or even with friends (yet the reality is probably little different to thirty years ago), so, as (often working) parents we need to try and find realistic alternatives, but what?
One of the main motivations when creating this website was to try and identify mechanisms and opportunities to engage people, but especially children, with wildlife. A recent government study indicated that 10% of children in England have not even set foot in a natural environment over a twelve-month period, a depressing statistic; we have to do more.
This lack of connection with the outside world has recently been coined Nature Deficit disorder, a non-medical term used to describe our alienation from the natural world, and the sometimes marked behavioural disorders it can lead to in children.
Over the coming weeks, months and years we will be providing ideas for parents to get their children to engage with the outdoors, and, we will be providing articles aimed at children.
Hopefully this will provide a useful resource, and help to motivate the next generation of ecologists and naturalists, or even just get children back in the woods and damming streams again!