Excerpts below -the full article can be read from the link above
” My children – now aged eight, seven and seven – take their rural surroundings for granted. And like all children their age, the rival attractions of CBBC and computer games do sometimes prevent them getting off the sofa and venturing outside. But when they do, they are transformed from couch potato kids into free-range children.
As I watch them racing off, nets in hand, to hunt down unsuspecting insects, I am filled with pride and joy. Pride that my children are rapidly turning into genuinely knowledgable naturalists, able to identify buzzards and bullfinches, catch gatekeepers and grasshoppers, and enjoy rare visitors such as the hummingbird hawkmoth that graced our buddleia bush last summer. Joy that they are, little by little, learning to love the natural world. For me, it was this passion that enabled me to turn my childhood hobby into my life’s work as a naturalist.
Yet I am also worried. ….. My concern is for other children up and down the country – in cities, suburbs, towns and villages – for whom the natural world is a closed book.
I’ve spent the past six months writing a report ……. It’s made me realise that the issue is both a lot more complex, and a lot more important, than many people assume.
The world is now divided into two camps, separated by whether you were born before about 1970, or after. When I meet people in their seventies or eighties they often tell me about their childhood nature experiences, sometimes going back before the start of the second world war.
But when I meet younger people, even those who have embarked on a career at the BBC Natural History Unit, I am often amazed at the lack of freedom they had as children. …..Those who, like me, came from a family where we were the first to take an interest in nature, are few and far between.
Why this has come about is obvious to any parent. Whereas we, and previous generations, had the freedom to roam where we liked at weekends and during school holidays, today’s children have their lives organised, planned and controlled to a military degree. Even if they do encounter wild animals or plants, this is usually as part of a ‘nature experience’: a guided walk, a school lesson, or via a TV or computer screen……..today’s children now know more about the wildlife of the Amazon rainforest than they do about their own backyard. My own children may be avid fans of Steve Backshall and his Deadly 60, but they also enjoy their own hands-on encounters with nature, even if they do suffer the occasional sting, prick or bite.
…. apart from the obvious benefits to their physical and mental health (there aren’t many obese naturalists), there is also the sheer joy that these experiences – often unexpected, sometimes scary, but always fulfilling – bring….. There are other, less tangible benefits to getting outdoors. Being allowed to roam free with your friends is a fantastic way to learn about yourself and about risk…..It also teaches children about working together as a team, a valuable lesson for later life.
Getting our children back to nature has to start with us parents. There are lots of ways to help them explore the natural world without feeling tied to our apron strings….. please don’t stop your children touching, picking, catching and collecting what they find; whoever coined the conservationists’ mantra “take only photographs, leave only footprints” had clearly forgotten what it is like to hold a frog, pick a bluebell or catch a butterfly.
Finally, as they reach the teenage years, allow them the freedom to explore wild places without adults following their every footstep. Scary, perhaps – for you and them – but incredibly rewarding too. By letting go a little, you will enable them to learn a lot.”