26 August 2011

Muddy Knees and Frog Spotting...

In an increasingly digital age, there is concern about opportunities for young people to get outdoors and engage in wild play. Here Froglife's My Wild Life Project Officer Jodie Coomber ponders children’s changing relationships with nature.

Since starting work on My Wild Life, a project using gathering childhood memories of wildlife and playing outdoors, I have often thought about the wild play in my own childhood. I was lucky enough to grow up in a rural area where it was safe to wander off for hours on end and get into all sorts of muddy scrapes. It’s only now when I talk to people my age who have no memories of playing in the wild, that I realise I took my childhood for granted.

Author Richard Louv referred to recent generations’ lack of exposure to nature as ‘nature deficit disorder’. In the 2005 work Last Child in the Woods, this deficit was linked to increases in obesity, attention disorders and depression. He suggested disconnection from nature was caused by parental fear of crime and traffic, loss of outdoor spaces, and the indoor alternatives on offer such as computer games and television. The more recent report Childhood and Nature from Natural England echoes Louv’s concerns. Only 10% of today’s children play in wild places (countryside, woodlands, and heaths) compared to 40% of children 30-40 years ago.

A family pond dipping at a Froglife event
Talking to young people about their childhoods for My Wild Life, I am increasingly able to personalise the statistics in these reports. When interviewing Phil aged 20, I asked him what kinds of outdoor adventures he had as a child. His response: he didn’t. His father was too worried about him going out on his own and there wasn’t anywhere nearby to play outside. The result: he played with lego and rode his bike in circles outside the house. Phil has only just discovered his love of wildlife through Wildlife Ambassadors, a Froglife project to get people engaged with nature and give them conservation skills. Phil is now keen to spend more time outdoors using his new-found skills for the benefit of wildlife.

So it is possible to make up for a lack of exposure to nature during later life, but ensuring the young have access to nature is surely a better response. In London efforts are already underway. A new draft report Sowing the Seeds: Reconnecting London’s Children with Nature, commissioned by the London Sustainable Development Commission, looks at children’s contact with nature in the capital. The report suggests using the outdoor child as an indicator species; the presence of children outdoors as a measure of the quality of neighbourhoods. The study is the first to produce a comprehensive assessment of London’s natural initiatives for children and the resulting recommendations will help to ensure that contact with nature becomes part of everyday life for London’s children.

Froglife works with young people to engage them with the natural environment from an early age. We also offer opportunities to people who may have missed out when they were growing up.  We are passionate about taking people with us on our conservation journey - a team effort is needed for us to save amphibians, reptiles and their habitats.

We are working towards a future where everyone has stories to share about their adventures spotting frogs, climbing trees and building dens.

You can donate to support Froglife's work providing opportunities for people to learn about and appreciate nature here.

 Photo: Jules Howard

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