Tag Archives: Wild Time

08.05.16 – Attenborough Day

Like millions of Britons I was brought up on a diet of Sir David Attenborough television programmes. Life on Earth introduced me to the wonders of the natural world. Brilliant filming combined with the Attenborough narrative left me spellbound and got me hooked on nature.

You can’t really underestimate his contribution to our national love affair with nature over the decades. He has helped to showcase the best of nature and its complex relationships and intriquing behaviour but also the massive challenges that wildlife faces in the 21st century.

Its his wondeful storytelling ability that has captivated generations of people; helping to deconstruct really complex ecological systems and allow viewers to understand what is happening . I like the fact that my kids love his programming as much as me and that we’ll sit down as a family to enjoy these epic on screen adventures.

At a time when people’s connection with nature on a daily basis has been diminishing I think that this year is the time to launch Attenborough Day – to celebrate Sir David’s birthday. The natural world is a fragile place and Sir David has told its story so beautifully over many decades and we should all spill out into nature on the 8 May to show what it means to us all.

When Sir David turns 90 on the 8 May wouldn’t it be brilliant if we could all take the time to look at nature and listen to nature where we live, connecting with the nature on our doorstep.  It would be amazing if people could commit to do their bit for wildlife where they live either by volunteering or supporting organisations that help species and habitats. Maybe it could be a good time to go on a family walk in the woods or find a local nature reserve that you’ve always been meaning to go to.

I’ll be taking my kids to Folly Farm, an amazing Avon Wildlife Trust place, to get some wild time, and spend time immersed in the beauty of spring.

The day is the perfect chance for people to commit to make a difference and share the stories of success in the world of wildlife; giving us all the hope that we can reverse the decline that we have seen in the last 60 years and showing that #Attenboroughday is one where hope shines bright.

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wild time 365

As the length of daylight hours begin to shorten and the weather starts to turn, for some parents the struggle to get their kids outdoors becomes one battle too many. The lure of cosy days in, watching films or playing on the X-box becomes very strong for lots of children.

December 023

Kids need their nature time, what ever time of year it is, and once they get a taste for it they are hooked

 

When it’s wet, increasingly cold and dark it might feel that the great outdoors isn’t that tempting. Getting soaked through on a walk in the countryside or the prospect of washing basket full of dirty laundry piling up at home can feel a bit too much.

And yet the outdoors is open 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. Yes the nature of our landscapes can look very different but the winter months can throw up a real sense of adventure and excitement. Living on an island in the Atlantic means that we should be use the fickleness of the weather. Nature does grind to a half as the clocks change and we head towards winter.

It’s so important that if we are to live in a country where every child is wild, that they have an experience of nature all year round and not just on the sunny days. There is something exciting about wrapping up, putting  on you boots, filling the flask with hot chocolate and setting off for a day at the coast or countryside. The natural wildness of windswept days, crashing waves and tumbling leaves makes you feel alive.

Jumping in puddles is one of the memories that many of us will have as kids. Those carefree moments of running up, jumping and hitting the water and soaking your parents; followed by laughter and the desire to do it time and time again is what wild time is all about.

For kids to flourish and grow there is a real sense of avoiding a sanitised world where the cold, wet and windy is absent from their every day lives. Feeling the full force of elements will often lead to the days that children will remember more than any other as they grow up.

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!

A tale of leaf catching…

On face value catching leaves as they tumble out of the trees should be pretty easy. Just stand near a tree, wait for a gust of wind and you’ll be able to pluck a leaf or two out of the air before they hit the ground. Job done.

Surely nothing could be simpler. If only. I remember a few years back visiting Lanhydrock in Cornwall and watching closely as family took on the leaf-catching challenge. The Mum and Dad stood rooted to the spot waiting for the leaves to come to them, remaining cool and calm. While the two boys jumped about and leaped from side to side, a bit like goal-keepers. Its an image that will stay in mind for a long time. A simple pleasure and a family having fun.

With so many distractions in life leaf catching might not appear to be the most exciting activity on the planet. But once you start you become addicted; determined to rule the roost and not be beaten by leaves as they gently float out of the sky avoiding your clutches. This is one addiction that is definitely good for you.

There I was with my son and daughter in a local park. Just waiting for the leaves of all shapes and sizes to descend. A strong gust of wind rattled the tree and down they came like a short sharp shower. Our hands cupped and ready resulted in zero leaves. Our tactics were found wanting. The leaves just weren’t playing ball. Then we changed our game-plan: charging at leaves scooping them up before they settled on the grass. This worked to some extent. Next we identified target leaves from high up as they descended and worked together to get the job done.

The family leaf-catching tally was slowly starting to mount up. We were rosy cheeked from leaping about and had that nice feeling of satisfaction of building up a steady bank of leaves. Still they came down and just when you thought that you’d got your leaf bounty they would take a sharp turn and you were left clutching at thin air.

Like collecting conkers, leaf-catching is a very seasonal wild time activity. It can be a team game or more of a solo pursuit. For me its something that brings out our personality and above all its free and fun.

Its time to play…

Play is an essential part of growing up. As kids we learn so much from the time that we spend playing; it has a kind of informality that appeals to children and can make a massive difference to their development. It fires the imagination, creative thinking and that sense of team work, without feeling like they are in a classroom. It’s also time for children to be children away from the adult world.

And yet in the last generation there has been a steep decline in natural play. Kids playing in the street or local park was once a common sight. No longer. The reason why this has happened so fast is down to a huge range of factors including the rise and rise of traffic and the temptations of screen time.

The new research out on the legacy from the Olympics and a lack of people taking part in sport is probably as much about kids not playing in their streets, whether football, cricket or tennis, as much as the cost of going to sports facilities. Think about where you grew up and the amount of time you spent playing with friends in your road and then fast-forward to now and the almost complete of kids playing out.

But things are beginning to change. There feels like a quiet play revolution is happening. Communities are fighting back. Parent are starting to see the importance of unstructured play in their kids lives.

The rise of forest schools, natural play trails and bucket lists of things to do has certainly helped. I remember chatting to a National Trust ranger who said that as soon as they advertised a den-building day the places sold out almost as fast as tickets for Glastonbury. At another Trust event in deepest Somerset kids from Taunton and Bridgewater spent the day chasing butterflies and racing snails, giving them an outlet for running about and having fun that has become restricted in many places.

And it’s not just happening in rural areas. Councils are looking at their attitudes to play and risk. People are coming together to close their streets so that the kids can play outside the front door. The city farm movement also plays an important role in giving children and families access to a little bit of the countryside in urban areas.

It will take time to see real change. But on play day 2015 there are grounds for some optimism. We can’t rest on our laurels and we’ll need to continue our hard work. But the momentum feels like its shifting and now is the time to start to grapple with some of the really big barriers such as traffic, making green spaces accessible and giving people the confidence to have a wild time. Every kid should have the right to play and as adults we have the duty to make that happen.

Going on a digital diet

In the life time of my daughter, who is 8 years old, the world of technology has changed beyond recognition. The rise and rise of smartphones and tablet computers means that we’re plugged in virtually for every minute of our waking day. Like millions of other Britons one of the first things that I do every morning after I wake up is turn on my smartphone. I check it regularly and it goes every where with me; a bit like an adult version of a comfort blanket.

Technology has brought us huge benefits in the way that we communicate. However – the relentless rise of screen time has happened without any rules of engagement. There are no social norms around how we should use technology that can be held in the palm of our hand. How many of us have sent an email or text and expect a reply within minutes and we start to get anxious if we haven’t heard back after a few hours. It feels like that you’re not part of the crowd if you’re unplugged or away from a digital device even if just for a short time.

Research has shown that we’re spending more and more time staring at screens of various devices. This naturally means that screen time is displacing something else – the ability to tune out, the ability to connect with the world around us and a massive impact on outdoors and time with nature.

And the phenomenon of split screening means that we can watch one screen, usually a TV, while checking our twitter feed or perhaps replying to those work emails that you didn’t finish off.

That is why National Unplugging Day is such a worthwhile initiative. It only had to be a matter of time. Technology is starting to impact upon the richness of human face to face communication and that sense of a real community. Screen addiction is becoming a condition that needs treatment affecting more and more children.

But don’t just switch off for one day. Like anything that you know that you should have less of its easy to do things in bite sized chunks. Don’t switch your phone on first thing in the morning. Maybe when you walk to to work or the station, instead of checking your phone every ten seconds look around you and try to listen to the soundtrack on your journey. You could start to ration how much you use your smartphone or tablet computer during the evenings or at weekends.

Its amazing how much more time you’ll have to talk to people, simply do nothing or get out and enjoy the wonder of nature.

We should be in control of technology rather than letting technology control us.

Getting into nature every day…

30 day’s wild is such a simple yet powerful concept courtesy of the Wildlife Trust. They’re challenging people to do something wild every day throughout June.

On one level it’s a sad reflection that we need these sort of campaigns to remind people about the joys and simple pleasures of nature. But the hard reality is that people have become increasingly disconnected from the natural world.

Most of us live in towns and cities, spend our working week commuting and then our weekends not wanting to travel (yes this is bit of a generalisation but will ring true for a lot of people). Plus we’re increasingly plugged in pretty much 24/7, almost oblivious to the world around us.

The power of a campaign such as this one is that its all about making nature part of your every day life, from the moment you open your front door.

Yes there are lots of amazing places for nature but we need to make it easy for people to connect with wildlife. If anything involves a lot of effort its likely to be less effective. Basically you’re in the world of nudge theory: gentle reminders to change your behaviour. Taking small steps which will lead to bigger changes.

Nature has a real habit of turning up everywhere. Given half a chance it will move into urban areas – parks, verges, green spaces, back lanes – and the edgelands that can be found on the fringes of towns and cities, where grey spaces meet the greenery of countryside.

My hope for this campaign is that people get a real sense of how easy it is to connect with nature. And that its about the common nature as much as the rarer stuff. There is something real soporific about watching the clouds, staring at leaves or tuning into birdsong. You don’t need to be able to identify what something is to really appreciate it; it’s a question of watching or listening.

So why not use June as the month that you finally get into or back into nature. Then it will become an essential part of your life day in day out.