Tag Archives: Wild Network

Living in a country where every child is wild

I grew up as a pretty free-range child. Like most of my friends I’d spend as much time outdoors as possible, whether on my bike or having a kick about in the local park. When I was growing up I wouldn’t say that I was deeply engaged with nature but was totally aware of it and it was the backdrop to my life.

A tiny little crab found in a rock pool on Bigbury beach in south Devon

A tiny little crab found in a rock pool on Bigbury beach in south Devon

Once upon a time this would have been the norm but in pretty much one generation things have changed pretty radically. It was when working on the National Trust’s seminal Natural Childhood report, published in spring 2012, that the stark evidence of children losing touch with nature became all too clear. The statistical and anecdotal evidence pointed to a real problem. Kids were become more sedentary, screen time was on the rise and there were lots of barriers to children spending time in the outdoors – traffic, health and safety, stranger danger.

It felt as though childhood was changing. Children need freedom to roam, to explore, to play and to let their imagination run wild. Limiting this is bad for their health and well-being and detrimental to their personal development. The outdoors is where we build our social skills and the confidence to take on the challenges that life throws at us. Sometimes it feels as though, as a society, we’re becoming less tolerant of children having fun.

Kids love walking through mud in their wellies and this lovely little walk 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

That is why the launch of #everychildwild by the Wildlife Trusts plus the ongoing work of the Wild Network around the concept of #wildtime is so important. We need to celebrate our own personal love of nature and encourage schools, parents and society to accept muddy knees, kids climbing trees and think about what the restrictions of too many cars on our streets and the loss of green spaces mean for children in primary and junior schools means.

One of life’s real pleasures for me is spending time with my two kids in the outdoors. Splashing in the puddles on a wet and windy day in a park, trying to catch the leaves as they tumble out of the tree or standing rooted to the spot as a sparrowhawk hovers gracefully in the sky looking for lunch.

I want my two kids to have the opportunities to explore and discover that I had. And I can clearly see the sense of wonder and joy that they get from looking for tadpoles in a pond or collecting apples from a tree on a sunny autumn day. When my daughter set up her own nature club at school it became an instant hit with her class-mates.

There is a danger, however, that a technology dominated childhood with a plethora of educational targets and tests takes the childhood out of our children and forces them to grow up too fast. That is why we need to make nature part of all children’s lives and make it easy for them to discover the joy of the natural world. I want to live in a country where every child is wild!

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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.