A report from the Natural Childhood summit
The National Trust is trying to reconnect children with nature – will it succeed?
A report from the Natural Childhood summit…
We are besieged by stories of today’s young people not knowing their acorns from their aphids; seemingly terrified of the unknown outdoors, of taking risks or getting dirty knees. Can we really change them? Jules Howard reports from the Natural Childhood summit, taking place today in London, organised by the National Trust and partners.
I’m pretty sure this is the first summit I’ve ever been to. Only one other summit comes to mind actually, and that’s the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio. I never went to that because I was a twelve-year-old boy. I watched it on Newsround though.
It was strange being on the other side today. I was the adult in a suit at a summit, talking with other adults in suits about how best to make life greener for today’s twelve-year-olds.
Building on the National Trust’s Natural Childhood report, the summit was billed as a chance for experts to meet and discuss solutions for how we can bring young people and nature closer together. It was the most highbrow event of its kind in the UK, contributing to what is becoming a global movement.
So was it a success?
Well, yes, mainly. A healthy and positive early step, I guess.
Like the environmental problems that the Earth Summit attempted to tackle, modern childhoods are complicated and hard to influence. Just like trying to conserve pristine virgin rainforests or coral reefs, real solutions involve lots of different groups of stakeholders, a dash of inspiration, frank exchanges of ideas, further research, and a bit of financial backing.
The good news is that the summit built foundations for all of these things. Only foundations, mind – but it’s a start. There is much more work to do, and scrawled felt-tip ‘action-points’ festooned the walls of the afternoon’s delegate workshops.
We have work to do indeed, but I feel re-invigorated. We may not be able to change society fully one-by-one, but as a population of individuals and stakeholders we can give it our best shot.
Anything else to report? Well, ok. There was something a bit weird. It was surprising that there were no children anywhere. Their thoughts and views seemed elusive, somehow. Glimpses here, a sound-bite there. Seen and not heard, ironically like the children of decades past. Perhaps this rare and elusive species needed more air-time? (To be fair, I guess it was a school-day).
Perhaps the most rapturous applause of the day was saved for Chris Packham, who appeared holding a dead starling’s wing, a fox’s skull and clutching his boyhood nature diaries. Seeing him rail against fluorescent tabards, marigold gloves and disinfectant hand gel was a sight to behold.
One of his sentences rang in my ears. About nature and modern childhood he said, “If they’ve never had it, what are they going to fight for?”
I looked around the room at this - how many of today’s twelve-year olds will be wearing suits and fighting for causes like this in twenty years?
Surely fewer. Unless…
For more about the summit (and to see some of the action points) you can download the National Trust’s report ‘Reconnecting Children with Nature: Findings of the Natural Childhood Inquiry’.