ARC's Snakes in the Heather Public Engagement and Education Officer, Owain discusses the risk of children becoming disconnected from nature and how it is vital we work together to fix this.

I was recently in my friend’s house when a large spider dropped down from a web somewhere overhead, letting its silk strand lengthen as it descended slowly, before it landed softly on the table in front of us. None of this happened very quickly, and there was certainly no need for alarm. Yet, a board game was temporarily disrupted as two of the four people around the table leapt backwards in horror. The spider was then carefully scooped up and put into the garden.

This started a bit of a debate about wildlife and inside and outside spaces. My friend was glad her daughter wasn’t in the room at the time because she was now so afraid of insects coming into her room that she no longer opened her window in the summer.

In a house of five people none of them were keen on insects, spiders and any other of our wonderful creepy crawlies entering their home. Yet, as this recent article in the Guardian points out, the association between much of our wildlife and our houses, is as old as the hills, or at least as old as the houses! For as long as we have had homes wildlife has used the spaces we have created, and much of our wildlife is named for its close association with or preference to live in buildings; the obvious example here being the house spider.

The ‘spider in the room’ incident is a very common scenario. How often has a fly, or heaven forbid, a mosquito buzzing about your house at night left you restless?! Even when outside, you will see lots of people hugely overreact when a wasp or bee gets too close for their comfort.

This anxiety about wildlife, especially insects, spiders, dirt and mud seems to be on the rise. Along with this, it has been reported by various newspapers this year that fewer children are able to identify common wildlife than previous generations, and that young people do not remember a time with more green spaces, with more birdlife, with more insects buzzing around, and the result is that they are not able to truly appreciate the extent of declines in wildlife populations. These things together are very worrying, but the solution is simple; normalise nature.

Those of us involved in outdoor education have committed ourselves to reducing the apparent divorce from nature. We are part of the natural system, and more than that, we are 100% reliant on natural processes to exist. Our soil health, our pollinators, our drinking water, our oxygen…

For anyone outdoorsy, nature is also a source of huge enjoyment. I find the lives of plants and animals endlessly fascinating, and following an ant around the garden as a child, or hiking as an adult are wonderful sources of screen-free entertainment. Arguably, more people than ever before have found the same during the Covid 19 pandemic as our natural spaces have had vast amount of visitors this year, and lots of us cited them as invaluable to our wellbeing during the lockdown period. (Whilst this is great news there were also reports of widespread littering and antisocial behaviour which needed to be addressed).

This is why it is now more important than ever before to get children used to nature, and better yet, to surround them with nature at every opportunity! We need to immerse children in nature from a young age, explain the value of nature once a little older, all the while showing them how to respect and care for it. This way we can create the next generation of stewards, striving to protect biodiversity.

If you feel inspired to get your family out enjoying nature visit our reserves pages for a list of local nature reserves you can visit. For ways to get involved with nature this winter, including our family friendly Nurture Nature Days please visit our Snakes in the Heather project page