Being outdoors is good for us, says Rebekah Stackhouse
The days are getting longer and the weather is getting warmer. This is the time of year when blossoms appear on trees, when our summer wildlife visitors start returning and when there are fantastic opportunities to get outdoors and connect to the natural world.
When I was little, I remember the bursts of brilliant bird song waking me up earlier and earlier each day during spring. Walking to school, I would spot the buds appearing on the trees, and even now, I get excited when I spot the first bumblebee of the year, buzzing about its business.
This connection to nature was, luckily, part of my childhood. It’s now a key part of what I notice and value in the world around me, and makes me smile each day. Unfortunately, all too often, the loss of green spaces coupled with cultural changes and the rise in technology means that many children rarely play outside.
But this does not have to be the case: we at RSPB Scotland believe that connecting with nature should and can be part of every child’s life.
The natural world, and being outdoors, is good for us. But we know that the natural world needs us too. The State of Nature report, a groundbreaking report by RSPB and 25 nature conservation organisations released last summer, shows that nature in the UK is disappearing – 60 per cent of species assessed have declined over recent decades.
This means that sights and sounds that were a common part of our own childhood, like watching a hedgehog snuffling through the grass or red squirrels chasing each other through the pine trees, are fast disappearing.
One of the most important ways to prevent this decline is to help people experience, explore and understand the natural world – to make an emotional connection, because they won’t protect what they don’t know and love.
Not only can children and families take action to get involved, they will also benefit from having more contact with nature.
In autumn 2013, RSPB and University of Essex released the results of a three-year project, funded by the Calouste-Gulbenkian Foundation, monitoring how connected to nature children in the UK are. The results showed that whilst children in Scotland have a significantly higher score of connection to nature than the average of the rest of the UK, almost three-quarters of our young people continue to miss out on opportunities to connect to the natural world.
The report was one of the first robust scientific attempts to measure and track connection to nature among children across the whole of the UK, and provides a starting point for organisations in Scotland to work in partnership to take these initial findings and make progress.
The establishment of Learning for Sustainability Scotland, a UN Regional Centre of Expertise, is a step in the right direction, but it is clear that more must be done on all levels to ensure our children share a love of the natural world and desire to protect it.
For us at RSPB Scotland, exploring the world around us is a critical part of childhood. Connecting children to nature has been at the core of our work for more than 100 years. We work in partnership with Real World Learning, organisations like John Muir Trust, Scouts Scotland, local authorities and schools across the country to ensure that all young people get the chance to experience nature as part of everyday life, and make that all-important connection.
The great thing is that there is something you can do to help build a greater connection to nature in the next generation. RSPB has joined forces with The Wild Network to give families fun ideas for enjoying nature on their website (including well-known classics like playing pooh sticks and making mud pies).
We are offering a fantastic array of family activities at the Scottish Birdfair, 10-11 May at Hopetoun House near Edinburgh. The nature festival will be hosting everything from pond dipping, nature walks, storytelling, arts and crafts and even a screening of the award-winning film Project Wild Thing and a talk by the filmmaker David Bond. scottishbirdfair.org.uk
Once summer comes around, celebrate the summer solstice by taking part in the RSPB Big Wild Sleepout (20-22 June).
We are encouraging everyone to get to know the creatures that share our gardens by spending the night in the great outdoors.
There are lots of tips on setting up your camp and fun activities to help you make the most of your night under the stars. You can register for the event on our website www.rspb.org.uk/sleepout.
Most importantly, get outdoors. You might need a raincoat, a woolly hat, and some wellies, but spring is all about new starts and Scotland is on your doorstep!
• Rebekah Stackhouse is education and youth programmes manager for RSPB Scotland,