I've just signed up to take part in The Wildlife Trusts' 30 Days Wild challenge during June. This is the fifth year the challenge has been running and each time I sign up it reminds me of my wild childhood, and why an early connection with nature is so important to instil a life-long love for the environment.
I have always been fascinated by nature, birds particularly. I remember, clear as day, buying my first Ladybird book at the age of 4 from our local Post Office - Garden Birds.
It cost 15p - I was in love, captivated by the colourful illustrations. I set about replicating these amazing creatures out of Plasticine. They would later be mounted on a green felt board on my bedroom wall.
As my Ladybird book collection grew, from Garden Birds to Sea and Estuary birds, Birds of prey, Heathland and Woodland birds, British wildlife, so did their Plasticine cousins. I was hooked.
At 8, I joined the Young Ornithologists Club (YOC). At 10, I was given my first pair of binoculars, the leather strap and case, still a familiar smell. They went everywhere with me. I was a little sponge, soaking up every detail.
I was lucky enough to spend my childhood roaming freely around our village in small packs of kids. Kicked out of the house at 8am with no expectation of being home until dinner, we explored all day. This was the 1970s, you could go anywhere on a Chopper bike, and so we did. The local quarry or park, we were always outside, with grazed knees and covered in mud, climbing in trees, peeking into bird's nests, and heartbroken at any wildlife fatalities.
My fondest memories are of my grandparents' farm, where my imagination was set free. I played for hours in the wooded spinney, and watched house martins and swallows return each year to the eaves of the barns and farmhouse windows. At haymaking time, hares scarpered to get away from the harvester.
Seasons changed, we got older. I remember lying in a field staring at the sky, chewing on a piece of grass, feeling pretty insignificant. Nature is a natural process over which I had little control but it was wonderful. Marked by the seasons, I was growing up.
Insects, thousands of them, danced in the last of the evening's sun; we ran for miles to get away. Unlike today, there were so many. A ready-meal for our house martins and swallows. Our car arrived home splattered with insect bodies. Wow, how things have changed these days. Insect abundance, a cornerstone of human and animal life, has crashed to an all time low. That's one of the reasons the Wildlife Trusts are working hard for nature's recovery.
My connection to nature remains constant. It is, of course, my job but, more than that, nature is in my heart, it is in my DNA. I believe that this connection to nature is part of everyone’s DNA.
I love taking the 30 Days Wild challenge every June. You can follow what I get up to on Twitter. In this busy life, taking just a little time every day to connect with nature is amazingly uplifting, your senses wake up - sight, smell, touch. It keeps me in touch with myself.
I'd love you to sign up and join me taking part in the challenge. Encourage your family and friends to take part too, and help them rediscover the power of nature to make us feel happier and healthier, all for free.
Looking back on my wild childhood, I encourage everyone to give their children the opportunity to discover a love of nature too. 30 Days Wild is the perfect opportunity for them to start a life-long love of the wild, and loving nature is the first step to protecting it.