A recent Fairyland Trust survey reported that 85.2% of Britons agreed “it is vital to introduce young children to nature”.
On the face of it, this seems good news for groups such as those involved with this year’s National Children’s Day (Sunday May 11) which focuses on ‘connecting children with nature’.
Yet the overwhelming support for a very must-do proposition, cannot reflect what is actually happening, as evidence suggests British children are not very connected to nature, and nor indeed, are their parents.
The reality seems to be that parents and grandparents, and even teachers, are no longer able to ‘introduce young children to nature’ in any meaningful way, because they can’t really see nature themselves. The old inter-generational connections that passed on the ability to tell one wild plant or creature from another, and to understand where and why they might be found, have been broken.
We need a national campaign of remedial action, and something motivational that will appeal to a population which has grown used to being ‘nature blind’. Such a drive needs to be big and multi-facetted, social and cultural not just straightforwardly ‘educational’, and to learn the lessons of marketing and other large-scale campaigns that have influenced public priorities.
My new report Why Our Children Are Not Being Connected With Nature1 sets out evidence, some of it new, some of it from our direct experience of engaging 70,000 people with the Fairyland Trust, some cultural and some from surveys, as to why Britain is becoming blind to nature and satisfied with an environment which is ‘green’ but increasingly sterile.
Values enthusiasts will find some evidence showing that the UK ‘conservation base’ is heavily skewed to Pioneer but ‘introducing children to nature’ has a much wider appeal. Pioneers are 20.2% more likely to respond positively to being asked to introduce young children to nature, than just to ‘care for nature’ but for Prospectors this rises to 32.5% ‘uplift’ and for Settlers and even higher 34.9%.
Here are the report’s conclusions:
- Britain is sliding towards national nature-blindness. Because they cannot discern nature themselves, most people are unable to introduce nature to their children, although they say it’s a good idea. People of all ages are generally disconnected from nature, and the old links that passed on nature knowledge are broken and need repair.
- This undermines efforts to stem the onward decline of wild plants and animals because people do not notice it, and means that any successes will tend not to be appreciated.
- We need a national programme of campaigns and initiatives to reconnect people to nature by enabling them to become nature-literate. This has to involve adults, not just children. It could include:
- Teaching Natural History at all levels of education
- Social and cultural initiatives to give people the skills and ability to read nature, recognize its diversity and quality, and identify species in the same way that earlier generations could.
- Putting authentic nature back into popular culture, eg advertisements
- Diverting some of the effort and resources put into agri-environment schemes which pay farmers to modify intensive agriculture (some £400m each year), into public engagement for nature literacy
- 4. Such a campaign requires the sort of marketing and communications skills and methods that have been used to promote sports, anti-drunk driving and anti-smoking campaigns, equal opportunities and anti-discrimination, and commercially, the promotion of a public appetite for better cooking and wines.
- 5. Conservation groups need to recognize that simply getting children outdoors, is no guarantee of connection with nature. Government and voluntary-funded projects intended to connect children with nature should measure outcomes in terms of nature-literacy and ability, not simply time spent out of doors, or general attitudes to ‘nature’.
- 6. Effective engagement beyond the narrow ‘conservation base’ (maybe 1 in 20 ?) will require activities and opportunities that appeal to the psychological groups Prospectors and Settlers as much as Pioneers.
- 7. Such a campaign will require moments which focus attention on particular species or features of nature, for example if the BBC were to reinstate its former tradition of a live Nightingale broadcast, it could form the centre-piece of an annual ‘Nightingale Night’.
- 8. Such a campaign would also need nature-engaging activities that match lifestages and lifestyles: for example courses for the time-rich (retired ?), and activities and opportunities which entertain children and time-poor parents.
- 9. A nature-literate Britain must become a widely shared political objective.
- 10. To achieve such political backing, nature ability and quality must become aspirational, for example by being attached to popular past-times like gardening, and being seen as a desirable feature in gardens and homes.
Modern nature-free farming: just grass, no flowers, insects or birds. Nature (or rather the lack of it) in contemporary popular culture: connection broken.
An advertising poster (for London Transport) from before the connection was severed. The wild flowers illustrated are real, recognizable British species: nature-literacy which has largely disappeared from the UK. See report for more examples.