The fantastic Jake, of Jake’s Bones, recently drew attention to an interview in which Chris Packham and Sir David Attenborough lamented the loss of young naturalists. Jake has then challenged this, and looked for support. I think this is admirable. Sadly, I think Chris and Sir David (both of whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting) have a point though. That’s part of why I started this blog.
When I was at school in the 1980s, I started a ‘Naturalists Club’ for my classmates. Nearly half of us joined in. That’s about 15 kids. Now, when I have worked with schools, you are lucky to get 2 or 3 that are interested. Those 2/3 will be brilliant. Like Jake, they’ll be passionate and knowledgable. But they’ll be exceptional, in more than one sense of the word.
Chris is right when he says about the growing disconnect. It’s a huge problem in my opinion, one that will only get worse, and has negative consequences for the natural world. If you lose your connection to nature, how will you care about what happens to it?
I’m sure legislation has an effect, as Chris and Sir David say. But I don’t think it’s the main problem There’s plenty you can collect if you are interested. I think Jake is much nearer the mark in his blogpost.
Part of it is the ease with which we can distract ourselves in the home. Not just games consoles, but if you do happen to be interested in the natural world, you can get so much online, via DVD, via multiple TV channels, that you may feel you don’t need to leave the house. When I was young, the good wildlife documentaries were occasional, and to be treasured. They could only be watched then. If I wanted a fix the rest of the time, I *had* to get outside.
I also think that parents are probably worried about the safety of their kids (I’ve actually got a blogpost scheduled for later this week on the subject). It’s not irrational, and it’s not wrong. But it may be excessive. Statistically, we are basically the safest people ever in the history of the world. By almost every marker you can track, we are better off, safer, more secure. Yet the attitude of the media has changed, things are reported more graphically and sensationally, and this can make us feel afraid to leave the house. That has to be countered. We have to see that you are basically safe out. I’m not saying be stupid, just trust the common sense of your children.
I think Jake will get responses to his call. he’ll find more brilliant, exceptional young naturalists out there. But they will remain exceptions unless our overall attitude changes, and parents and teachers encourage children to go outside. Not in a dismissive way, not “give me some peace, don’t come home till 7”. But actually taking kids out into local parks, woods, nature reserves, and engaging with the natural world.
I do not believe interests change. Humans have been curious about their world as long as they have existed to be curious. We just need to provide an outlet to engage that curiosity. That way, the young naturalists will grow, spread, and thrive.