Later this week across the UK and next week across Canada children of all ages will be returning to school after a long summer break (that always goes by incredibly quickly). Life will return to normal and the usual school run will begin. I cannot help but wonder how many children did something wild over the summer holidays. How many spent their holiday looking at wildlife, my optimistic side likes to think most, but I fear it will not be that many.
As a wildlife educator my job is to teach children about wildlife and nature, I try to focus on local wildlife, I have never had a bad response from a child, it seems when nature is put in front of them they love it. Therein seems to lie the problem, nature is not often put in front of children, especially within the education system. Yes they learn biology, yes they learn about climate in geography, however they do not always know about wildlife around them. It is not the schools fault, wildlife does not seem to be on the agenda within the curriculum which is controlled by the government, if a teacher wishes to teach about wildlife it has to be an extra curricular activity.
We seem to be living in an age where young people are very aware and knowledgeable about the big issues environmentally such as global warming, however struggle to name 5 common garden bird species. In an ideal world I would love to see schools being given the funds to offer students trips to wildlife reserves, money to set up wildlife gardens and encourage children to learn the names of species and local wildlife. Some schools do this, but I would love to see all schools encouraged and most importantly funded to do this. Perhaps I am a little biased but I think nature is hugely interesting to young people and when they are given the opportunity to learn about it they seize the opportunity with both hands.
There is no easy fix to the issue, many wildlife charities and organisations are working to provide as much wildlife education as possible; we have a number of forest schools and a range of wildlife reserves but this is still not easy for all young people to access. It needs a major shift in governments’ mindset, they must take the lead and encourage wildlife education in schools, from a young age. My fear is many children are being left behind, there is a large demographic that does not have the opportunity to connect with nature. Each year I see thousands of young people, many of whom do not have the resources to visit natural areas, their only chance of connecting with wildlife is within school. Therefore it is important for us to keep encouraging outdoor activities, to assist schools and keep pushing to provide opportunities for our school children and young people to connect with wildlife and nature whilst asking more from the government. There is certainly hope, the internet is filled with some incredible and inspiring young people who are connected and fighting for wildlife and conservation. We just have to ensure that all children are given the opportunity to experience and learn about the natural world.