Sunday, 12 July 2015

My guest blog for The Wildlife Trusts - 30 Days Wild

#30DaysWild was a Wildlife Trusts initiative for June 2015 to get people out into nature.

On Day 30, I wrote an article for the Wildlife Trusts website about dome of the issues in getting people into nature.

This is the link to my article

This is the article:

During June, The Wildlife Trusts ran a hugely successful nature initiative, 30 Days Wild.  The idea was that each day people looked out for something wild or natural.  Not a planned event searching out wildlife, but something that was a random act of wildness.  It was a brilliant idea and got people across the country involved.

As a young birder, it would have been easy to just go birding daily at my local patch, Chew Valley Lake, listing a different bird each day.  This would have been too easy, too within my comfort zone.  Instead, I tried hard to choose wild things that were not planned at all, that I just came across, in my normal life.  This was much harder.  I do usually notice wild things as I pass them, but now I needed to take special notice with a photograph.

The month started well and on day one I ringed baby Blue Tits (pulley) from a nest box in our garden before school.  We didn’t know until we opened the box whether there were any birds inside, so it was exciting to see them.

Then on day two, I sat and watched the wildlife in our pond, the next day I photographed a blackbird in our bird bath, then on day four, I went for a stroll in our beautiful woods and on day five I noticed a bee on flowers on my way to the school bus.

Some days my ‘doing something wild’ was obvious, like when on day six, I gave a ringing demonstration to Bristol Nature Network, when it was brilliant to see them so excited. 

Other days I had to look harder and think harder.  I had a 5 day school trip to Barcelona, so had to think of wildness in a city.  In the end, I was able to come up with something wild for each day, pretty impressive for a city break (if I don’t say so myself).  My favourite was the leaf carvings at La Segrada de Familia, with carvings of insects in them.  Gaudi, the architect, was inspired by nature and always tried to bring an element of that into his work.

I know that I am really lucky to live in the countryside and be surrounded by nature.  It might be more difficult in the city, but as David Lindo ‘The Urban Birder’ tells us, there is plenty of wildlife in the city.  The Wildlife Trusts’ city centre reserves are really essential for this.

I think that it is crucially important for everyone in our society to be able to connect with nature, whatever their age and whether rich or poor.  I have written and talked a lot about how to get children into nature and birds, including a list of things to try.  It’s especially important to get children interested as they are the future.  I think that the best way to inspire them is outside of school, at groups like after school clubs, Scouts and Guides.  Teachers are already including important subjects like climate change, deforestation and conservation within Geography and Science, but I think teaching kids about nature as a stand alone subject in PSHR would give it the kiss of death, as nature is seen as nerdy.  That is something that we must change. 

In recent years, lots of people have written about how eco-therapy (going out into nature as a treatment) works better than anti-depressants for people with severe depression.  However, you are more likely to be able to use eco-therapy if you have already connected with nature before.  What this means broadly is that people who are already used to connecting with nature (for example because they live in the countryside), can use it to make them feel better more easily than someone who has never connected with nature (for instance because they live in the inner city).

Areas of our society most impacted by this are ethnic minority people living in the city.  The research shows that ethnic minority people, especially men, are far more likely to suffer from mental heath issues.  They are also the least likely part of our society connected to nature and so eco-therapy is unlikely to be an option for them.

It’s very difficult to engage this section of our society and virtually no research has been to find out why.  There are no role models and nature is seen as a white past-time.  I have spoken to a few ethnic minority birders that I know, but everyone says the same, that they didn’t have any role models, they got into birding just because they saw something in it and that their family were unsupportive.

Last weekend I organised a camp for young birders, Camp Avalon.  I had read an American article by David Lindo talking about taking inner city ethnic minority teenagers out birding and “opening the door to nature” for them.  I realised that it was important to try and overcome the barriers and get ethnic minority teenagers to attend my camp.  In the end we had 14 teenagers with 6 from ethnic minorities (including me).   It was hard work for them and us because engaging with wild things did not come naturally to them.  Over the weekend, all fourteen teenagers managed to engage with nature in their own way. I really believe that even if some only engage with 20% of the weekend, hopefully they would have seen and understood enough for that “door to have been opened” so that they might connect with nature sometime in the future, when they are ready to.  That might not be until they are in their twenties or even with a family, but the weekend would not have been wasted.  One 16 year old Asian boy plans to return next year, which is am brilliant result.

Ringing at Camp Avalon

Ringing at Camp Avalon

These are areas I intend to continue highlighting and want to look into more, see what can be done to overcome the barriers and then try to make the changes happen.

Camp Avalon

About the Writer

Young Birder Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig on Scilly
Photograph taken by and copyright Chris Craig 

Mya-Rose Craig is a 13 year old young birder, conservationist, writer and speaker. She is based near Bristol and writes the successful Birdgirl Blog, with posts about birding and conservation from around the world. She is looking forward to going Mountain Gorilla Trekking in East Africa in the summer and watching Penguins in Antarctica in December 2015, which will be her 7th continent. She has recently been listed with the singer songwriter George Ezra and actress Maisie Williams from Game of Thrones as one of Bristol's most influential young people. Please like her Birdgirl Facebook Page and follow her on Birdgirl Twitter

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