Preventing our children's 'wild' play could have devastating effects on the environment, according to a new study.
The study of 700 nine to eleven year olds carried out by BBC Wildlife Magazine, has sparked concerns about the lack of young naturalists available to take over from existing experts in the future.
Sir David Attenborough told BBC Wildlife Magazine: "The wild world is becoming so remote to children that they miss out – and an interest in the natural world doesn't grow as it should. Nobody is going to protect the natural world unless they understand it."
Just half of the children questioned by BBC Wildlife Magazine could identify a bluebell or a blue tit, while the figures for species such as primroses and goldfinches dropped to below 15 per cent.
What's more, playing in the countryside – or playing outside at all – is the least valued pastime for this age group – using the computer was twice as popular an activity.
Fergus Collins, Features Editor of BBC Wildlife Magazine, said: "The results reinforce the idea that many children don't spend enough time playing in the green outdoors and enjoying wildlife – something older generations might have taken for granted."
And it’s not just the lack of future wildlife enthusiasts that is raising concerns. Experts maintain that unstructured play in wild places is vital to a child’s social and emotional development.
Dr Martin Maudsley, Play Development Officer for Playwork Partnerships, said: "Play is the primary mechanism through which children engage and connect with the world, and natural environments are particularly attractive, inspiring and satisfying for kids. Something magical occurs when children and wild spaces mix."
Furthermore, the Really Wild Show presenter Nick Bakerbelieves that parents play a vital role in reconnecting children with the wild world: "If the parents get it, the kids get it. I was lucky – my mum and dad knew there was a big, exciting world out there."
While the widening gulf between children and nature is often attributed to anxious parents who worry about the 'dangers' of playing outdoors, Dr Maudsley believes that adults are also tooprotective of wild places and stresses that "environmental sensitivities should not be prioritised over children".
Fergus Collins commented: "Allowing kids to play in wild places, discover wildlifeand even build dens, enables them to develop an essential connection with the natural world. And if we can't spark an interest in nature when our children are young, how can we expect them to look after the planet and its wildlife when they are adults?"
Are children losing touch with the wild world? by Fergus Collins will be published in the August issue of BBC Wildlife Magazine, on sale 31 July, £3.25.
Notes to Editors:
BBC Wildlife Magazine survey
BBC Wildlife Magazine recently asked 700 children between the ages of 9 and 11 from 17 schools in Bristol and the surrounding countryside, to identify 15 local wild species and what they know about wildlife.
Identification (% answered correctly)
Blackberry - 70%
Primrose - 12%
Newt - 42%
Frog - 62%
Badger - 90%
Otter - 77%
Blue tit - 54%
Deer - 77%
Robin - 95%
Goldfinch - 8%
Magpie - 70%
Bluebells - 51%
Cranefly - 51% (daddy long-legs also allowed)
Woodlouse - 88%
Oak - 45%
What do you like to do in your spare time? (in order of preference)
1 See friends
2 Go for a bike ride
3 Play on computer/use internet
4 Go for a walk
5 Play in the street or a park
6 Go shopping
7 Play in the countryside
How often do you visit the countryside?
A Most days - 17%
B More than once a week - 12%
C More than once a month - 26%
D A few times a year - 34%
E Never - 11%
Are you allowed out to play on your own?
Yes - 78%
No - 22%
Have you ever visited any of these places?
A Zoo - 95%
B Safari Park - 67%
C Nature Reserve - 57%
D Country Park - 72%
E City Farm - 47%
Do you have any pets?
Have you ever done any of these things?
A Built treehouse or den outside - 72%
B Collected small creatures - 69%
C Gone pond-dipping - 55%
D Explored a rockpool - 71%
E Collected/hatched frogspawn - 30%
F Grown your own plants - 84%
G Been birdwatching - 52%
H Picked blackberries - 79%
I Got stung by a nettle - 83%
J Got clothes muddy and wet while outside - 93%
If you have a garden, do you feed the birds?
Yes - 69%
No - 31%
Do you watch nature programmes on tv?
Yes - 71%
No - 29%
What's your favourite animal?
Seven ways to get kids (and adults) into nature
If you want to get your kids involved with nature, Dr Martin Maudsley and Play England offer some excellent advice:
1 Help childrento gain access to nearby nature for everyday experiences. Such spots could be school grounds, public spaces, rights of way, community gardens, parks and local nature reserves. You can also approach environmental organisations and forge relationships with private landowners.
2 Help maintainand protect local wild spaces, rough ground, wasteland and
unmanaged vegetation (the 'unofficial countryside') as special childhood places that support invaluable unsupervised, unplanned outdoor play.
3 Allow children to experience extended periods of uninterrupted free play innatural environments, and be sensitive to the effects of adult intervention.
4 Encourage naturalscruffiness within children's play areas – let outdoor places go and grow wild. Let the space reflect the changing nature of the seasons. For example, leave areas of uncut vegetation, grass trimmings, autumn leaves and fallenbranches. Create areas of bare earth for digging and playing with mud.
5 Be prepared. Check the safety and play potential of natural sites in advance, encourage children to wear/bring old clothes and waterproofs, organise tools, equipment and resources that might enhance the play in that setting, and learn skills and techniques (eg rope knots and plant identification) that you can use when exploring the environment with children.
6 Cultivate a sense of wonderwith children when outdoors. Share excitement and enthusiasm for encounters with nature, and take time to talk to kids about their experiences (positive and negative) in natural environments. Find opportunities for spending time in natural areas and reconnecting with your own sense of wonder.
7 Stand up for children's right to play. Communicate with other adults in the community about the benefits of children's natural play, share examples of good professional practice for overcoming barriers and, where appropriate, challenge social restrictions.
Dr Martin Maudsley
Dr Martin Maudsley is the Outdoor Play Development Officer for Playwork Partnerships at the University of Gloucestershire – which champions opportunities for children to play in outdoor spaces and with the natural elements. He also works regularly outdoors as a professional playworker, trainer and storyteller, and has an enduring childhood passion for wild adventures in wild spaces. www.playwork.co.uk
BBC Wildlife Magazine
BBC WildlifeMagazine launched 44 years ago as Animals, and is the world's best natural history magazine. It has a monthly circulation of 47,095 (ABC Jan-June 2007) and is published by BBC Magazines Bristol, a trading name of Bristol Magazines Ltd., which is a subsidiary of BBC Worldwide Ltd., the main commercial consumer arm of the BBC. www.bbcwildlifemagazine.com
BBC Magazines Bristol is the trading name of Bristol Magazines Limited (BML), a wholly owned subsidiary of BBC Worldwide, which was created in May 2006 following the sale of non-BBC titles at Origin Publishing in a management buyout. www.bbcmagazinesbristol.com
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