Feature: Are the UK’s children the first generation to lose contact with the natural world? A new groundbreaking campaign certainly thinks so

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Hannah Stephenson
Wednesday, January 8, 2014
3:32 PM

Are the UK’s children the first generation to lose contact with the natural world? A new movement certainly thinks so, and has launched a groundbreaking campaign, being backed in the region, to ‘re-wild’ them. HANNAH STEPHENSON reports.

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No matter how long or short you have available, there is always a way to introduce your children to nature.

If you only have 10 minutes...

TREE HUGS

Take 10 minutes to feel a tree. Every tree species is unique and different, some are rough with distinct patterns while others are smooth like paper. Try this with a friend – it makes it more fun. Choose two different trees close to each other, close your eyes and use your hands to explore the bark and leaves. What can you find out about the tree? What does it feel like? Is it warm or cool? Describe the tree to your friend in as much detail as you can.

If you only have 20 minutes...


BIRD DINNER PARTY

Set out seeds for birds in the winter and watch to see who comes. How many different types of bird come to the party? Try to draw or snap them. Share them with your friends.You can identify British birds on the RSPB website www.rspb.org.uk.

If you only have 30 minutes...

WILD ART

Go on a short walk around a garden or park looking out for different objects on the ground. Look for different colours shapes or textures. Collect the objects and arrange them into a picture or pattern. What picture or sculpture can you create with the things you have found? Take pictures of your art and share with your friends.From the National Trust’s list of 50 things to do before you’re 11¾.

Wild Time app

For more ideas, the Wild Time app is full of great ideas about what kids can do outdoors. They are broken down into bite sized chunks ranging from ten-minutes to half a day. It’s all about trying to make wild time part of the everyday lives of children.Different smartphone versions of the app can be downloaded for free from http://projectwildthing.com/wildtime and you can share your ‘wild time’ ideas too.

Further afield

If you have an afternoon or more, you could go for a wild adventure to one of the many nature reserves in the region, including RSPB Strumpshaw Fen.

Just a few miles out of Norwich, Strumpshaw Fen is one of the RSPB’s 30 nature reserves in the region. Strumpshaw is home to a wide variety of birds and other wildlife that you might not get the chance to see on your doorstep.

There’s plenty for children to do, with activity rucksacks available, and a range of guided walks for birdwatching beginners and old hands too.

At this time of year you can stroll through stunning autumn woodland, look out for bitterns, bearded tits and other shy wetland birds and if you are lucky you might spot one of their resident otters.

For more information, visit www.rspb.org.uk/strumpshawfen or call 01603 715191.

The children of today have never had it so good. They have healthier diets, better schooling and can expect to live longer than any previous generation.

The all-conquering domination of the internet, with its seductive charms of online gaming, iPods, tablet computers, smart phones and social media, also means that children’s age-old gripe of being bored is a complaint rapidly in danger of becoming redundant.

It’s not all rosy though.

Unlike their parents and grandparents, who as children would regularly spend hours playing outdoors, today’s generation spend an inordinate amount of time sitting indoors transfixed to the flicker of a computer or TV screen.

A growing number of people believe that, while this access to ever-more technology and material goods has its gains, it also means the loss of something equally, if not more, important; the natural world.

With this in mind, a coalition of more than 370 organisations, including the RSPB, the National Trust, Play England and the NHS Sustainable Development Unit, have come together under the banner of the Wild Network in attempt to ‘re-wild’ our children.

The Wild Network wants parents to encourage their children to swap thirty minutes of screen time for an extra half an hour of wild time every day. This, they believe, could help increase levels of physical activity, alertness and ultimately improve well-being while reducing childhood stress and combating the UK’s spiralling obesity epidemic.

One parent who supports this campaign more than anyone is David Bond, a father-of-two who is working with branding and outdoor experts to develop and launch a campaign to get children to engage with nature, or ‘the ultimate, free, wonder-product’. Together, they have created a film, ‘Project Wild Thing’, showing Bond getting his own children into the joys of nature.

“Research clearly shows that being in nature improves children’s health, reduces stress and boosts wellbeing. I’m not aiming to make parents feel guilty about allowing their children to play computer games. I wanted to understand why my children’s childhood is so different from mine, whether this matters and if it does, what I can do about it.

“Project Wild Thing’ isn’t some misty eyed nostalgia for the past; we need to make more space for wild time in children’s daily routine, freeing this generation of kids to have the sort of experiences that many of us took for granted. It’s all about finding wildness on your doorstep and discovering the sights, sounds and smells of nature, whether in a back garden, local park or green space at the end of the road.”

It’s a message endorsed by local campaigners. Sharon Sanderson, Youth and Education Officer for the RSPB in the Eastern Region, said: “The movement to inspire parents to get their children out into nature is growing in momentum right across the East and the RSPB is thrilled to be part of a project that encourages and inspires parents to swap their families’ screen time for ‘wild time’.

“Even as we approach winter and the early frost sparkles on our windows, the Eastern region is full of wild and wonderful experiences perfect for families, whether you fancy packing your bags for a day trip or popping out into your back garden as the dinner cooks..”

Sharon added: “You can even ‘wild up’ a walk to school.”

She stressed how lucky we are to have so much wonderful nature locally. “We are so lucky in the Eastern region, famed for its wild spaces and big skies. Wildlife rich areas such as the Broads, the Brecks, and the North Norfolk Coast are on our doorstep, and packed full of fantastic, free opportunities to experience the natural world at its best,” she added.

David Bond acknowledges that as the gap between rich and poor continues to widen, access to the outdoors in the UK is increasingly becoming a question of wealth but he argues that education is key to ironing out these inequalities.

“Children growing up in poverty are nine times less likely to be able to access quality natural spaces than those from affluent homes,” he explains.

“It is insane, given the health benefits of time spent outdoors, that the latest National Curriculum for England published this year has reduced requirements for nature and outdoor time.”

But is a lack of connection with nature something we should really be concerned about? Or is the whole project little more than a marketing gimmick?

Andy Simpson, chair of the Wild Network, firmly believes the former.

“The tragic truth is that kids have lost touch with nature and the outdoors in just one generation. Time spent outdoors is down, roaming ranges have fallen drastically, activity levels are declining and the ability to identify common species has been lost.

“New research illustrates the scale of the challenge with only one in five children aged eight to twelve years old having a connection with nature. With many more parents becoming concerned about the dominance of screen time in their children’s lives and growing scientific evidence that a decline in active time is bad news for the health and happiness of our children, we all need to become marketing directors for nature.”

For more information visit 
www.projectwildthing.com

1 comment

  • Health and safety laws, the dwindling wildlife, and the pollution of the environment is restricting what children are allowed to do outdoors these days even if they did have an interest.

    Report this comment

    Ar ya reet boi?

    Wednesday, January 8, 2014

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