Safety in Nature

Earlier this week, when talking about the future of young naturalists, I mentioned that part of the problem may be  the concern parents have for safety.

Something I’ve often heard said is that people don’t like the idea of their kids being out in some local park or wood alone, as they fear the threats to them. That’s fair enough. It is right to be aware, it is right to be concerned, and it is right to be attentive. But I worry we’ve gone too far, in fear of threats that are more a product of the media than anything else. So, here’s my statement.

If you are living in the UK today, you and your family are basically among the safest people ever in the history of the world.

By any measure of war, crime, assault, terrorism, or any threat you can think of, the statistics show they are actually diminishing, not increasing. Steve Pinker’s brilliant book The Better Angels of Our Nature covers this exceptionally well. Meanwhile, measures of health and life expectancy, are going up. But happiness is going down, and obesity is going up.

I’m not saying there is no risk in life, just that what we lose by being hyper-cautious may be more than we gain. I spent much of my childhood playing with my friends, in the great outdoors, with no adult supervision. I was fine. We were fine. That didn’t make us lucky, or exceptions. We were the norm, and your children are safer now than I was then. If they are sensible, know not to go off alone, know not to leave with strangers, then they are likely to be safe.

Nobody is perfectly safe anywhere. Statistically, you are more likely to suffer an injury at home. Abusers are more likely to be connected to your family, than some anonymous ‘stranger danger’. I’m not saying you should stop caring for the safety of your children, or yourself. Just that you should let them off the leash a little more. Let them climb a tree, let them get a little dirty. Don’t worry if they pick up animal poo, just make sure they know to wash their hands afterwards!

I say this because we are raising a generation that is utterly detached from nature, that doesn’t understand or appreciate it. That is bad news for conservation. We need the next generation to be engaged. Allowing your family to ‘play out’ is also healthier, and with a growing obesity problem that’s got to be a good thing.

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4 Responses to Safety in Nature

  1. James Corner says:

    I couldn’t agree more.

    The problem is that people in general are useless at assessing risk. If the consequences are frightening, regardless of how unlikely the event is, they will mostly give “prevention” a high priority while ignoring lesser hazards that are far more likely to occur. The classic example is someone who is frightened to fly yet is quite happy to drive all the time which statistically, presents a far higher risk of death. The problem is emphasised in our current news culture where unspectacular and frequently occurring events are ignored as “not newsworthy” but the occasional, disturbing events are given far more prominence than they deserve.

    I am a pessimist in this and I’m afraid that I only see it getting worse.

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