Sunday, 2 November 2014

Letter to BBC Wildlife Magazine

I am a 12 year old girl trying to juggle my obsession with nature and conservation with being an ordinary pre-teen. Your article “Are naturalists an endangered species?” was interesting but frustrating to read.  Whenever this topic is discussed, even though you are talking about what children think, you never actually ask our opinion.  Although the people who commented have some valid points, these come from their experiences, which are of the generations above mine.

Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig with other young birders at AFON/BTO Conference April 2014
Photograph taken by and copyright Chris Craig

I think it is too easy to look back with rose-tinted spectacles.  A small number of children, who were probably already interested in nature and wildlife, would have been nurtured through school wildlife clubs.  However, I think they were a small minority.  I know people who went to Bristol Grammar School in the 70’s and early 80’s who can’t even remember there being a wildlife club, because it wasn’t something they were interested in.  

My Mum grew up in central Bristol and although when she was at primary school, she was allowed to play with her older siblings close to home, she, like most of her friends, was not allowed to “roam free”.  By the time she was at her independent girls’ secondary school, she didn’t go outside at all, spending her time watching TV, phoning her friends and doing homework.  She doesn’t remember being taught anything about nature or wildlife at school or there being any wildlife club.  

Before, if you were interested in wildlife, your only option was to do biology A level and then a Zoology degree.  Now there is environmental studies A level with a huge number of options for degrees.  The point I am making is that things were not perfect back “in the day”.

My Dad, Chris Craig, birding in Nepal in the 1990's when, even then, birding was uncool
Photograph taken by Dan Cole, award winning bird artist

As a child, social networking has it’s a pro’s and con’s.  Social media has been positive for me because I have been able to write a blog and publicize it to birders around the world.  However, perhaps because I am a girl, I have been subjected to cyber bullying by birders old and young.  There is still a lot of sexism in wildlife and conservation with boys getting a lot more opportunities and positive attention compared to girls.  

Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig using social media from Santa Marta, Colombia
Photograph taken by and copyright Helena Craig

I found it surprising that the article did not mention forest school being introduced into primary schools, where children are taken into nature.  In my area, the majority of primary schools now have forest school for age 4 years and above, a trend that is spreading across the country.  My Dad has been involved for three years, getting children connected with nature and wildlife, which the children love.  My Mum has also taken out a kindergarten for forest school, taking them to see the birds at Chew Valley Lake.  There are lots of organisations and individuals working with children in nature who should not be ignored.  I think we need a network of naturalists to do the same.  I feel sure that this is the start of the “engagement with nature” process referred to in the “Natural Childhood” Report. 

Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig on her 7th birthday with all her class at WWT Slimbridge
Photograph taken by and copyright Helena Craig

I disagree that nature has to be taught formally in secondary schools.  It is unlikely to happen and so we must find alternatives.  The curriculum is stuffed full and needs to be reduced not increased.  I have covered some aspects of nature, conservation and the environment in science and geography and am sure that lots of like minded teachers would have done the same.  If natural history and environmental studies were added to the curriculum, I think they would probably be added to PSRE, as science and geography have no space.  PSRE is a lesson children don’t take as seriously as other academic subjects.  For this reason, if nature and the environment ended up in PSRE it would give the topics the kiss of death.  At my age there is a lot of pressure not to be seen as “nerdy”, which is why wildlife clubs are a big “no no”. 

A baby Orangutan at Borneo Rainforest Lodge, Sabah, Borneo
It doesn't matter how cool the animal is, wildlife is "nerdy" in school

Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

I believe the way forward is engaging with children out of school.  A large number of children join Scouts or Girl Guides from an early age.  For example, one in four eight-year-old girls is going to Brownies.  I have done wildlife workshops with Scouts and Guides and have arranged them for all the groups in my area.  I have found young people to be surprisingly interested in wildlife and open to ideas.  There are also badges that they can also work towards, with help and support.  As children are outside of school, they are more receptive and less concerned about being seen as “geeky”.  In poorer areas where perhaps children can’t afford to go to Guides and Scouts, maybe workshops can be targeted at afterschool clubs.

Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig ringing with Scouts at Chew Valley Lake
Photograph taken by and copyright Helena Craig

At my secondary school, environmental science A level is very popular.  I have given a talk to Year 12 students, after their AS exams, about conservation projects I have been involved in around the world. The feedback was really positive with them saying that someone, especially a young person, coming in and talking about projects first hand inspired them to plan a gap year and get really involved.  Other naturalists could do the same and go and talk to young people.

Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig giving a talk about birding and conservation
Photograph taken by and copyright Karin Rhodes

I have written an article for Bird Watching Magazine on how to get children interested in wildlife and what birds to show them to get them hooked.

Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig's top birds for children in Bird Watching Magazine
Photograph copyright Bird Watching magazine

I have also written an article on how to get started as a beginner birdwatcher for BBC Countryfile Magazine.

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Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig at Chew Valley LakePhotograph taken by and copyright Oliver Edwards Photography


  1. Hi Mya-Rose
    I was really interested to read this blog post as more environmental education in schools is something I feel so strongly about. Climate change, deforestation, water pollution, species being being hunted to the point of extinction are just some of the things that are going to have a bad impact on us all. We have to make everyone stand up and listen to this or we are never to change it. What is more important that the fact that we are destroying the very home we live in? I don't think it should be a stand alone subject in schools, I think it could be part of nearly every key subject, for example even debates in subjects like English. When I surveyed every primary school in Cheshire for a guest blog I was writing, the one thing that all the schools agreed with was that there should be more taught about the natural world in schools but that it didn't fit with the curriculum. It can fit in every part of the curriculum though.

    I want to be part of the generation that really made a difference and gave back to our shared home more than we took away. From Findlay

    1. Hi Findlay, thanks so much for reading my blog and for your comments. I agree that environmental and conservation issues like the ones you talk about should be covered in schools. As I said in my post, I have covered aspects of nature, conservation and environmental science in school and in fact have covered all the topics you refer to by the end of year 7, as well as studying wildlife poetry in English. Teachers cover these subjects because they feel strongly about them and I don’t think my school is unusual. Also, primary schools are introducing forest school because they want children to experience nature and wildlife, which they then work alongside in class. For example, I covered things like the Amazon (including deforestation, climate change and endangered animals) in primary school. I do think that children will respond better to learning about practical wildlife and nature out of school, based on my experiences in school compared to workshops I have run out of school. We all want the same future and need to work together for the sake of our planet. Mya

  2. Hi Mya,
    Thank you so much for replying to my comment. It is really good to talk about these sorts of things. I agree that it is very important to work together and I don't think it matters if we each do it a bit differently as long as we are working to make more people aware.
    The reason I am so much for nature education and climate change awareness in schools is because it reaches the kids that wouldn't be the types that would choose go to scouts or guides or after school clubs.
    I think we have to make more people aware, especially those with no real interest in our natural world. I know we can't make all people love the natural world like we do, but I think you can make them see the harm they are doing and how you can't keep taking from nature because soon there will be nothing left to take. And then it's too late. I am really glad that you have had so much experience of these topics in school. My year 7 has been very different unfortunately.
    From Findlay

  3. I think this is fascinating Mya. At Chew you will probably find many teachers passionate about specific aspects of nature, the natural world or science. What I tend to find however, is that having students like you in a class, it really fuels our enthusiasm as we see it being reciprocated and actually lived by you through your interests. We have a passion for imparting our knowledge and interests on students but this is amplified when they begin to relate and engage with topics.

    It is fantastic you see so much relevance in your studies, but that this can be and should be extended beyond school.

    It can be a challenge to convince all of the true relevance of issues you rightly view to be important.

    Keep it up!

    1. Dear Mr Loynton, sorry for not responding when you made this comment. I went to a debate last night called "Nature - Our Big green Ally" where some people were talking about how to get children interested in nature. It was a shame because they were going on about the national curriculum again but at the same time saying that they knew adding nature to the curriculum would not happen, but still not giving any practical solutions for an alternative.

  4. As an experienced primary teacher, I can definitely say that we cover environmental topics throughout primary. We give children as young as nursery a multi sensory experience in nature.

    Forest schools are amazing. Schools have Eco councils, leading their school in educating children about the importance of being responsible for the environment. With organisations and events such as the pod, and 'switch off fortnight' children are actively getting involved in caring about our environment.

    My experience is that of inner city schools, and we take it seriously. We give children experiences they may not have outside of school, such as trips to the woods and parks. In my current school, we took all of primary to the beach, via walking and train, right from reception class to year six!

    The curriculum is full of opportunities to learn about environmental issues. On my teaching placement as a student teacher, back in 2000, we did a whole week on rivers! Schools have always provided the opportunity to explore and learn about the environment. Of course, we could always do more. I find that the older children / people get, they lose that sense of caring and wonder. That is important to address. Why is that? Do we become jaded? Do we forget how much we enjoyed it as children? Someone needs to do a study on that!

    1. Thank you for your comment on this subject, it was really interesting and relevant to the subject here.


Thank you for posting a comment. Please can you make sure that it is positive and is about me or my blog and not about promoting you or your business. Thanks. Mya-Rose Craig