Reflections on: the importance of children connecting with nature

Estelle Bailey, Chief Executive of BBOWT, reflects on the impacts of Covid-19 on our work inspiring the next generation about nature

BBOWT believes that everyone deserves the opportunity to experience the joy and wonder of wildlife and the natural world.

This feels particularly true for our children. I know for me nature was central to my childhood, being outside was a release where time evaporated into dusky evenings, and in summer months warm thermals carried the scent of honeysuckle and the hum of insects.

On the mad dash for home, as my bike wheels turned faster in anticipation of supper, I batted off swarms of gnats and moths, swallowed a few too. These were happy days fuelled by contact with nature.

Girl with binoculars

Girl with binoculars by David Tipling/2020VISION

After all, this closeness to the natural world is hard-wired into our DNA. We humans evolved as part of nature.

But does it really take a pandemic to turn our worlds upside down, for time to stand still or blur day with night, to leave our gadgets behind, go outside - smell, touch and see everything differently?

It would seem so.

A recent survey reveals that access to green space and the importance of nature has emerged as a top public priority. In a post-Covid world, addressing the nature and climate emergency is driving calls to #BuildBackBetter - for a clean, green economy, and a fairer and more equitable future for all grounded in nature.

We are missing other people, but are often less time-stressed and more connected to nature now. Our values have seemingly shifted.

When I think about BBOWT’s work, one of the things I feel proudest of is that our education teams are providing so many children every year a chance to experience the natural world.

School visit

Schoolchildren at Sutton Courtenay Environmental Education Centre by Ric Mellis

Today was better than Legoland!
Year 2 pupil after a visit to Woolley Firs Environmental Education Centre

On average, ten thousand children a year pass through our four education centres, and it can be life changing. If you’ve never felt grass beneath your bare feet or seen a water body the size of College Lake you’ve really missed out.  

We run a bursary scheme, funded by donors, that enables schools in deprived areas to have access to our education centres, paying for coaches to get the kids to us. It’s brilliant, it’s life changing.

But so many kids are missing out right now as our education centres are closed. They are excluded from such experiences by their economic backgrounds too, and the new normal that children don’t roam in the way we used to. Four generations ago the average child roamed six miles from home, now it's just 300 yards.

The Wildlife Trusts have long seen this disconnection with the natural world as a crisis, but the pandemic has brought the value of access to a garden or local green space into sharp focus for many more people.

It has also revealed the true value of nature to all of us. In our vision to #BuildBackBetter, connecting children with nature, and finding new ways of doing so, will be a priority.

No one should have to live in a nature-deprived neighbourhood. We want children to have parks, live among green walls and to see green roofs, be free to roam, hear, smell and touch nature, and most of all, appreciate what nature does for them, for all of us - it is our life support.

Family

Pond dipping by Matthew Roberts

For now, as the coronavirus restrictions continue and we plan for the future, we’ve found novel ways to inspire families to connect with nature. We’ve gone digital. So grab your tech, follow us on Facebook, sign up to our Family Fun emails or listen to our Wildlife Gardening podcasts. We’re coming to you!

Please get involved with us, and if you share our belief that everyone should have the chance to experience the joy of wildlife, please donate to support our vital work with children. Thank you.