Young children given the opportunity love to dabble in nature. I believe that in most cases adults, in the developed world at least, have lost that tendency, so why?
In common with most children of the 1950’s I spent many hours outdoors. Nearly all my fondest memories were concerned with outdoor activities. Some extensive cow pastures on the edge of town, complete with streams, a river, and nearby gravel pits were a common setting, and as the bike became an option, places much further afield provided an opportunity for fishing and encounters with various natural things. Encouraged by parents, TV presenters, including Graham Dangerfield, Peter Scott and a young David Attenborough, and even at school, I came to love the natural world; and so did many of my fellows.
I changed school at the unfortunate age of 14, and though I may have been the tallest in my year I was not the most confident. I have little diaries with many entries expressing my hatred of the school, this caused by bullying. Years seem long at that age, but eventually my school fellows and I emerged from puberty, and the hormones started to settle down. However my brain had yet to go through the usual reconfiguration process, following puberty which in everyone takes years to complete, and though I did well through school and managed a physics degree, I really emerged with no sense of what to do and too little confidence. After a number of jobs I tried teaching, which was not good, and after too long, with help and effort, started to stand up for myself, became more content and eventually became a lecturer in universities, and settled down to enjoy my work.
Throughout my childhood, these difficult adolescent and young adult times, and indeed through to now, I have retained my relationship to nature.
I think that this is an instinctive thing, strong in every child, but usually squeezed to the margins or driven out altogether by most adults, as they strive to fit in to the complex conformities of the modern human world.
Many people involved in conservation seem to struggle with full conformity to modern expectations. Like some of my fellow volunteer reserve wardens and helpers I am unusual; but that’s OK. Following social media, I am surprised and impressed that many young people openly share their concerns, their doubts and their lack of confidence. It is better to express this than to retain it as I did.
Research confirms that nature is good for one’s state of mind. I believe that the instincts that we have relate to the fact that we are not very many generations removed from our ancestors who evolved and depended on the savannahs of Africa. People usually learn to cope with, and sometimes even excel in the complexities of modern human societies. In my life through a lot of effort I have learnt to navigate my way around these things but the pleasure of hearing running water, seeing the sun rise, or observing an unexpected animal , pleases me, while the excesses of modern life do not.
Can societies return to their instinctive relationship with nature? I think the instinct is always there, but there would need to be a social revolution, a conscious reassessment of what is fulfilling to an individual. Maybe it would require a new generation to emerge who would reject the emptiness of pointless consumerism.
Let the children play!