Made in Britain: a den-building revolution

Barely a week, and sometimes a day, goes past, without a new report about children in the UK losing touch with the natural world.

Kids need their nature time and once they get a taste for it they are hooked

Kids need their nature time and once they get a taste for it they are hooked

Despite the best efforts of a lot of people it seems as though the long-term trend isn’t looking good. This could be a generation of children that has little or no connection with the natural world – something that feels shocking to say as I write.

The spontaneity of playing outdoors for hour after hour has diminished pretty dramatically in no time at all. When was the last time that you saw kids playing out in the street where you live (too many cars) or a local green patch (what are they up too?)?

And yet there is I detect a glimmer of hope on the horizon. There is a very British revolution happening: people quietly going about their business, making some bold changes. No big bang, more incremental change but tapping into an apparently dormant and untapped demand for more nature time among children and families. Think about the brilliant Forest School movement and how they have become the norm for many schools with spin off’s for holidays.

Without these interventions any concept of having a wild time outdoors might pass this generation of children completely by.

People might bemoan the fact of organised events but if it sparks that interest which then cascades into family life, it is a positive step forward. Remember that barely one in five children have any sort of deep connection with the natural world and outdoor play and until the next RSPB survey we don’t know where that figure is heading – it could be north or south.

Last summer I spent a day at the beautiful Fyne Court in Somerset – helping out with Wild Wednesday. My impressions from those few hours in the sunshine have been deeply ingrained in my memory: kids fanning out across a south facing slope looking for butterflies and children racing snails. Yes it’s organised but there is no doubt in my mind this day was helping to create a sense of nature as fun and something exciting. A National Trust ranger also told me that when they advertise den-building days the phone rings off the hook a la Glastonbury festival on the day that tickets go on sale.

Kids love walking through mud in their wellies and this lovely little nature trail around Bath City Farm keeps them going

Kids love walking through mud in their wellies and this lovely little walk around Bath City Farm keeps them going

At my local city farm in Bath they have a fantastic one-mile nature trail with plenty of things to keep kids interested and they’ve recently added a little woodland play area. It’s very simple and it works drawing kids out into the green spaces where their imaginations can run wild; it gives them the confidence to try new things and have that real sense of adventure.

And never underestimate the power of children getting their friends into nature. My eight year-old daughter set up a wildlife club for her class-mates – complete with little membership cards. Demand was huge and they gather every week to talk about things that they have seen.

Organisations, large and small, the usual and unusual suspects are rolling up their sleeves and making change happen – and the amazing Wild Network is the personification of this, bringing people together to create real change.

Something is stirring across the UK, in schools, local communities and the conservation movement that gives me hope. The den-building revolution has begun and the road to reconnection with nature is paved with optimism.

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One response to “Made in Britain: a den-building revolution

  1. This resonates with me on so many levels. I am 58 and grew up on a large council estate in south London, I believe the current population of the Downham Estate is close to 15,000, and Beckenham Place Park was on my doorstep. I grew up in an age when kids were allowed to go out and play unsupervised and me and my mates spent many hours over the park. The park is approximately 200 acres, 100 acres of which is a public golf course. Me’n’my’mates happily wandered and explored the park’s nooks and crannies, including over the golf course when the area was clear of golfers. But kids don’t have the same freedoms now. However, the local council are planning to put initiatives in place for the kind of activities for kids that you describe; there is plenty if scope to do so – fields, forest type tracks, a meandering riverbank and a large pond to study water biodiversity. Sounds perfect. Not according to Lewisham Council who want to close the public golf course because they say it takes up too much room. This golf course is the only public 18 hole one in London, it is easily accessible by public transport and has no restrictions on footwear or clothing and no expensive fees. Rock up, pay and play! It is well used by a diverse group of people from different ethnic backgrounds and used to have a thriving junior academy until Lewisham Council contrived to squeeze it out. Despite this, the juniors are making a comeback with about 30 of them on the putting green at 9.45 this morning. In addition to utilising the park for forest trail activities Lewisham Council could develop a good programme of junior golf. Learning the skills to play golf not only develops a range of skills, it is good exercise, requires mental agility, is good for coordination, teaches respect for and cooperation with ones opponent and the environment and is a sport that can be enjoyed over a satisfying period of time rather than short spurts of activity. The combination of forest trail type initiatives plus junior golf would be a dream ticket. But Lewisham Council want to close the golf course. Madness! By the way, I am not a golfer.

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