Our fondest memories of childhood tend to be days where we have been soaked through by the rain, muddy and disheveled, witnessing a moment in the secret life of a wild animal up close, or building mental maps of the wild spaces in our home environments and feeling like we are sharing this space with something sacred, a life-force we are part of, not above. For me, this message is becoming increasingly important, as I’ve watched my home city become more and more urbanised, and the woodland and countryside shrinking into more contracted areas, leaving less room for play and less room for wild things to thrive. But something more vital is at play with the loss of our wild places, and that is lack of connection in the younger generation. We must be careful not to become desk warriors- being supportive of environmental causes but not living the message and ‘getting out in it’, and that extends to what image we create for our children of the natural world: through us they learn words, understanding their world through the vocabulary we give to them. We must also seek to spread the spirit of and affection for nature in our children, in schools, universities, workplaces and in local communities. Tree bathing has been prescribed in Japan in recent years as a means of alleviating modern anxieties, our own wildlife trusts are promoting ‘every child wild’ activities to encourage families to get out an experience nature and learn, in a fully immersive way, to ‘muddy up and rejoice with the earth’, and that includes experimenting with language to express all the wonderful natural phenomena around us.
Robert McFarlane, a fantastic nature enthusiast, adventurer and poetic genius, explored this in his beautiful book ‘Landmarks’. It is a book about “the power of language to shape our sense of place. It is a field guide to the literature of nature, and a glossary containing thousands of remarkable words used in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales to describe land, nature and weather.” In it, he tells of the worrying disconnection between our children and the natural world. He recoiled in horror, as we all did, when in 2007 the Oxford junior edition of the dictionary removed a multitude of nature words, such as ‘moss’, ‘blackberry’, ‘adder’, replaced with ‘blog’, ‘chatroom’ and ‘broadband’. This is a chilling reflection of the way language has evolved in the modern world and society’s perceptions of what we value and use every day. But there is hope in this bleak mizzlepond (my own invention to mean that muddy, squelchy ditch masquerading as a shallow puddle that swallows wellington boots) we find ourselves. The upcoming generation of children seem keener and more aware of environmental issues than ever before, with local schools running recycling schemes, water saving campaigns, vegetable patches and local gardens. Indeed, this summer we are giving kids the opportunity to come down to the Lyndon reserve centre to become ‘reserve experts’ and learn what it takes to be a good conservation leader. They will get the opportunity to get up close with nature as never before, honing their identification skills, practical habitat skills, wildlife knowledge and above all, being out and about in whatever weather befalls us this year, to feel connected to wildlife and the landscape. This summer school runs on two separate days: one for kids aged 8-12 and the other for kids aged 12-16. This opportunity came along due to a partnership with the Cameron Bespolka Trust, started as all brilliant legacies do, by one brilliant young man’s passion for nature. You can find out more here https://www.ospreys.org.uk/reserve-expert-summer-school-2019/
And that’s not all you can expect from Lyndon: we’re echoing the passions we’re seeing in the younger generation and opening our minds, and our doors, to engage more families, young people and children, to come and have fun with arts and crafts, wildlife walks, demonstrations, poetry and writing competitions, photo booths and other workshops set for the summer ahead. One of the most moving and powerful tools we have is language, and we’ll be exploring all sorts of weird and wonderful ways to keep it alive: by making you laugh mostly! If you know have young kids yourself, have friends or relatives with children then rally the troops and come down over the summer holidays and enjoy the beautiful outdoors through a new perspective! After all, our best hope for conservation and a sustainable future are the bright sparks under our wing.