GUEST BLOG by Melanie Oxley. A chance meeting with walkers who couldn’t identify a wren prompted this call to bring back the Nature Table, once common in British schools.
Chris – Your campaign on peoples’ ignorance of wildlife has really got me thinking. It is true that through my voluntary work, I meet many more people than ever, who simply cannot identify common birds and flowers. Even the ecologists I work with need to go on identification course!
This was brought into sharp focus recently whilst I was bird-watching at Malham Tarn in the Yorkshire Dales. I was observing wheatears when a well turned-out couple in their 30’s asked what I was doing. I showed them the wheatear through binoculars and they seemed interested. After all they had come to one of the country’s famed beauty spots, presumably to enjoy wildlife. But then the guy said they had spotted a really noisy little bird with a short tail, so what was that? Rusty brown? I asked. OK, so they had never noticed a wren before and did not know its name. I was totally shocked about this, more so when I passed the unmistakable wren, but at least these people had noticed/reacted! At least they were there.
“The problem of no reaction”
I think the problem of no reaction does come from ignorance, which can only partly be blamed on our education system. It also comes from a failure to even notice, which comes from having our heads constantly filled thanks to mobiles and other devices. There is no space for noticing. People are shutting themselves off from the sights and sounds around them and instead either listen to their music or endlessly look at the responses to their comments. They are just not up to even noticing, let alone taking an interest.
How can this be fixed? Some apps are good, eg. bird song recognition and plant-finder, but for real immersion in nature, these devices should be left behind. Schools can help address this problem; for example, on Mondays each class could discuss what wildlife they spotted at the weekend. The nature-table needs to make a comeback too – Infant and Junior schools should be encouraged to bring in their findings and talk about them. They can be asked to take home and care for caterpillars in the school holidays, or keep a moss garden watered. This is definitely where my life-long interest was ignited. I loved the smell of the nature table!
Families can be encouraged by teachers to ignite interest by all sitting down together to watch Spring/Summer/Autumn/Winter-watch when on, 8-9pm, with mobiles off (not on silent). Teachers will also have to watch it of course! This can be discussed the following day, perhaps at assembly.
The Wildlife Trusts could play a much larger part in getting information to children through schools (some do, I know). Badger and bat watching are great ways to get them interested – they are usually so excited to be out in the dark, I bet for that hour or so, children forget all about the technology available to them.
Families need to be encouraged to supply the information to children through books – Eye-spy and Observers (still going?) instead of apps, also cheap binoculars instead of games. All these things require only a little thought and a bit of imagination.
“quite unmistakeable” said The Observers’ book of Birds – but perhaps not ?
Melanie Oxley works for The Ecology Consultancy as a copywriter. Her voluntary work includes Friends of Clapham Common, Friends of Petersfield Heath and the Western Riverside Environmental Fund (WREF).