Have you seen the film Project Wild Thing? It follows David Bond, the self appointed ‘marketing director of nature’ in his quest to get people – especially children – reconnected to nature. I found it funny, moving, occasionally cringe inducing and profoundly right.
It’s something we’ve often covered in BBC Countryfile Magazine. The emotional, physical and mental benefits of contact with nature are well documented – basically, it should be a major part of the curriculum.
But it isn’t and without giving the whole story away, David – despite speaking at conferences and festivals and employing an army of the best marketing gurus – finds the hardest challenge is convincing parents. Even his own wife is not bowled over by the idea of giving their children more freedom to play and take risks.
But I was really interested when David talked about adults having become afraid of the outdoors. Indoors – with all our exciting digital gadgets and the godlike presence of the Internet – is safe and comfortable. Outside is dangerous, uncomfortable and too much like hard work.
David suggests that being alone in the outdoors, in an unfamiliar place that can’t be controlled, is a rare experience for so many people. And so they can’t see the point of taking their kids out into it. Occasionally it is the fault of a tiny minority of landowners – blocking footpaths illegally, putting up private signs and making visitors feel unwelcome. But the blame lies more squarely with our own attitudes.
For me the best moment of the film was when David sits down for an hour alone to simply relax and see what happens. He choses a spot in a woodland by a pond. The viewer doesn’t have to endure a whole hour of this; just a montage of restful images with a fantastic backdrop of birdsong. It’s well filmed.
At the end of the hour, David seems to emerge from a dream. He rubs his eyes, looks slightly surprised and then talks about just letting the wildlife come to him – and wash over him. “That was the best hour I’ve spent for a very long time,” he sighs, looking visibly relaxed and refreshed.
This. A million times. This at its most basic level is what the countryside and nature can do for you. As I’m finding again in Monmouthshire, there is another realm out there – a place of freedom, adventure and beauty. Yes, the iPad has its place, but we have a real world to enjoy, too.
The good news is that 300 organisations including the RSPB, The National Trust, Wildlife Trusts and the NHS Sustainable Development Unit have joined forces to create the Wild Network. As David Bond says “We need all the help we can get to achieve our goal: the systematic breakdown of the barriers that keep children indoors, often on screens, and away from what they really want, and what is best for them physically and emotionally – wild time.”