Getting connected

The RSPB is getting concernedthat people aren’t getting ot much these days and that children in particular are missing out on contact with nature. This they say is a concern as “people won’t protect what they don’t know and love.”

This is something that has worried me for some time. Several years ago the UK’s Natural Environment Research Council sponsored a study looking at the knowledge of the natural environment held by the UK’s population. At one level the findings were not startling: elderly ladies in country villages recognised more wildlife than young men in inner city London. What was shocking to me however was the level of ignorance displayed. For example, shown a picture of a hare, the aforesaid gentlemen were most likely to identify it as a kangaroo. So not only do they not know a native British animal, they are more familar with something seen on TV that isn’t found in the UK.

How can you expect someone that disconnected from the natural world to understand why it’s important to protect it?

I believe this is a growing problem. The UN’s statistics indicate that now, for the first time in history more people live in cities that in the countryside. Other studies predict that this trend will continue and those cities will become bigger. You can see the precursors in Asia: cities of 10 million plus and growing. Populated by people who see leisure activity as shopping, going to the cinema, eating out. Consumption that is unltimately unsustainable and that depends on an ever decreasing level of natural resource.

In China for example already some staple ingredients for Chinese Traditional Medicines are extinct in the country and are now imported from elsewhere. Delicacies such as turtle are now likely to come from South America rather than be locally sourced. And we are no better: take a look at the ‘country of origin’ labels of the foods you are buying.

What’s the answer? I don’t know. Keep banging away at our politicains to protect what we have and not erode things further? Educate our children to understand where their livelihoods come from? Encorage children and others to appreciate not just the beauty of nature but also its place in making us not just who we are and keeping us alive.

What can NCOS do? Well our role is mainly population monitoring – looking for trends at a local level. Our Charter as a charity gives us an educational role which we have fulfilled with the Atlas and the Peregrine-cam in Cheltenham. ┬áMaybe there is more we could do with the knowledge we hold from our surveys. If you’ve ideas, let’s have them in the comments.