It’s a cliché to say that children nowadays spend too much time in front of a screen and not enough time outdoors. But there is a kernel of truth hidden within such a blanket statement. According to government statistics, 83% of the UK population now lives in urban environments and 55% of us live in settlements of 100,000 people or more – approximately the size of Woking. With this increasingly urban living, all of us face greater obstacles to getting outdoors but this is, at least in part, an issue of accessing local natural spaces alongside the ubiquity of digital entertainment in today’s world.
In 2013, the RSPB carried out a widely-publicised study into connectedness with nature amongst 8-12 year olds across the UK. The findings were shocking – only 20% of children were truly connected with the natural world that surrounds them. Further research indicated that being connected with nature was associated with improved health, happiness and environmentally-friendly behaviours such as recycling. Other studies have shown that a majority of schoolchildren could not identify bumblebees, blackbirds or woodpeckers. All of this points towards a need to provide opportunities for young people to get out into nature and explore, investigate and learn. By doing so we can help to foster happier, healthier kids who will in turn work to protect our planet for future generations.
At Holme Farm, we will be putting engagement at the forefront of our outreach efforts with local children. I am a firm believer in letting kids learn through unstructured activities so we will always welcome visitors to simply wander through the rewilded areas, with resources available to help identify the plants and animals that might be seen and explain how all of the life there fits together to make a whole that is bigger than the sum of its parts – our glorious natural world. Equally, I hope to run more structured sessions when young people can join us and engage in ancient pastimes like pond-dipping, bug-hunting and leaf-rubbing. By providing them with the tools and knowledge to find, examine and admire a wide variety of wildlife, I believe we can craft a new generation of nature-connected kids who will be inspired to go home and comb their gardens and hedgerows for life in its infinite forms.
Sitting and watching the bird feeders and small mammals feeding stations to see what turns up. Placing motion-triggered cameras to capture animals that are more shy or nocturnal and then checking the cameras days later to see what we’ve caught on film. Pond-dipping to watch tadpoles change from spawn to fully-formed miniature froglets over weeks, and to find the tiny creatures that feed them as they grow. Turning over leaves and searching hedgerows for caterpillars and then watching as they morph into chrysalises before a moth or butterfly emerges. Taking time to observe bees at work, filling the pollen baskets on their legs as they buzz from one flower to the next. Running a net through long grass and then using a magnifying glass to get close to the bugs, beetles and other beasties which call that particular habitat home. These things might sound like they only happen in the pages of an Enid Blyton book but they are all fun, free and family-friendly activities that get kids outdoors and engaging with the wonders that surround us. I want to use Holme Farm as a community resource for reconnecting our children with nature. If we provide the tools, the knowledge and the time then I hope we can inspire kids to spend even a little more of their days outdoors, breathing fresh air and burning off energy. To reclaim a phrase – I think every kid could benefit if we let them occasionally go a bit wild.
And you never know, next time you just might find the kids pestering you for a walk instead of an iPad!