‘They took all the trees
And put ‘em in a tree museum,
And they charged the people,
A dollar and a half to see ‘em’
Big Yellow Taxi – Joni Mitchell
Last year Sir David Attenborough spoke at the Landscape Institute Awards, he said if we are to save the planet (from global warming and biodiversity loss) “we have to see it, to understand, to love it”. “The world depends on an understanding (by people) of the natural world” and “this (understanding) starts on their doorstep”.
It was an emotional plea to the audience to act now before it is too late. We all went away charged with renewed energy to do our utmost, as landscape professionals, to connect people with nature though our work, to understand our ecosystem and the part we play in it.
Critically our understanding the natural world, and the part we play in it, is starting, it seems, at a very low point.
Most of us struggle to identify trees as we walk beneath a tree canopy. They may be all over the countryside, in our parks and gardens but many adults and children have little idea of the names of common plants, animals or insects.
In a study 83 per cent of children are unable to identify a bumblebee, 82 per cent don’t know what an oak tree leaf looked like (Dr Dion Terrelonge 2019). In some ways children are very aware of the natural world, thanks, in part, to television shows such as Blue Planet and increased conversations around environmental issues.
However, this alone is no substitute for actually experiencing the natural world through exploring it with each of our senses. In a study by Dr Dion Terrelonge a quarter of parents say their children have little to no interest in the natural world and one in three said spending too much time sitting in front of a screen was to blame.
Only last year a report by Natural England that found one in five children living in England’s most deprived areas spend no time in the natural environment.
So what better time to start than now. Its spring, the weather is beautiful, the trees are in blossom and the green haze of new leaves is appearing. Get outside, especially during the COVID lockdown, enjoy this beautiful time of year and the next time you go for a walk in a woodland, a park or the countryside, do please take a tree identification book and learn more.
The better we understand the natural world around us, the more we can cherish it and save it for future generations.
Jane Findlay April 2020