Asked to picture our favourite childhood memory, many of us will remember something outdoors, but we may well be the last generation to do so. Ask the same of today’s children and they are likely to answer their bedroom, in front of a TV or games console.
A new National Trust report ‘Natural Childhood’ is a welcome and much-needed spotlight on the issue and reveals the extent that our children are suffering from ‘nature-deficit disorder’. Leo and I are honoured to have been asked by the National Trust to be involved in the campaign and ongoing consultation. We will be writing guest blog posts, but also hopefully getting our hands dirty in helping show kids and parents alike the simple things that we can all do to reconnect with nature and the great outdoors. But you can start today. Whatever the weather this week, forget the chocolate eggs and endless film re-runs, get outside and try one of our simple activities; it is a present that your kids will never forget.
For inspiration, we thought we’d show you a few of our own homemade videos so you can pick up some tips:
We recognise that even those of us that want to reconnect and feel the urge to be in the countryside have lost the skills and sense of play that older generations enjoyed with the landscapes around us. That’s why we wrote Skimming Stones and Other Ways of Being in the Wildin the first place, to give people from 8 to 80 the ‘what’, ‘how’ and ‘why’ to connecting with nature. So, if you want all the techniques to building your own kites, foraging for food, building an igloo, finding fossils, making a woodland den, wild camping, carving a whistle from elder, navigating from nature, damming a stream, tracking animals, making rod and tackle to catch a fish…and, of course, the simple skill of skimming a stone well…please buy the book! It will provide you with the all you need to the start your own adventures in the wild, whatever your age.
We often receive requests to try to boil down the activities in our book into bite-sized bits of information. The difficulty is that this is somewhat at odds with the ethos of ‘Skimming Stones‘, which was written to get across the value of the slow learning of these skills in the great outdoors; the pleasure and rich rewards of slowing down, taking our time to do certain activities and allowing ourselves to really be in nature.
However, when the mighty news site The Huffington Post called, it was an offer we couldn’t refuse. They wanted to provide ten things that might get people out and into nature this Easter, especially young people that might otherwise be tucked up around a TV or games console. Now we have nothing against games consoles, indeed we have both owned and enjoyed a few in our time, but it is a question of balance. Recent research states that fewer then 10 per cent of children in the UK play in natural spaces and ninety per cent of Britons live in an urban environment with most never taking or finding the time to be in the outdoors. This despite evidence that spending time outside raises levels of Vitamin D, helping protect children from future bone problems, heart disease, diabetes and other health issues; nature improves distance vision and lowers the chance of nearsightedness; exposure to natural settings is widely effective in reducing ADHD symptoms; exposure to environment-based education significantly increases performance on tests of critical thinking skills; our stress levels fall within minutes of seeing green spaces and nature enhances social interactions, vital for community and relationships.
So we decided we would put our best editing hats on and summarise ten of the activities in the book with the aid of our illustrations. Here’s hoping people are inspired to try them out and take their kids along to have a go too. You can read the feature by clicking the image below. Please share it, then get outside and enjoy the sun!
Our latest column in The Independent is out and this month it’s all about the splendour of birdsong, plus a few suggestions for places where you can catch the dawn chorus line in full voice. Hop on over via the link below and see what we’re chirping on about.
The fantastic website www.livefortheoutdoors.com has been a source of inspiration to us for many years. It is responsible for many of our wild camping exploits (although they are careful not to encourage it!) and is the encyclopaedic online presence for magazine titles ‘Trail’ and ‘Country Walking’. It was lovely to read this morning that they have posted a little review of Skimming Stones and Other Ways of Being in the Wild:
It somehow manages to say something about nature that the rest of us can’t. Yes, there is a practical side to it, but there’s also a philosophical message that comes through as well. A great book for anyone who loves nature and wants to get more in touch with the great outdoors.
March is a phoenomenal time to wander outside into any of the rural spaces that exist around us and I urge everyone to take advantage of the brighter mornings and longer evenings. You don’t need to plan trips to our stunning fells or sweeping coastline; in parks and gardens and any rough scrap of land with vegetation and trees, we find nature stretching its limbs after the long sleep of winter; the bursting forth of green leaves and fleshy, furry buds. Slow down. Stop, look and listen.
Birdsong becomes a powerful and peaceful morning wake-up call through our bedroom curtains even in towns and cities as winter migrants return from international tours and battle it our for territory. It’s nature’s X-Factor, only far more impressive and tuneful – the humble wren sings a song that contains 740 different notes per minute and which can be heard more than 500 metres away. All too often we take such things for granted, yet they are enchanting to stand and listen to. Learning to identify the differences between birds is rewarding work; birdsong has been proven to improve our mood and enhance cognitive abilities.
We should learn to value the fringes of our towns and cities where such wonders take place, the forgotten lanes and stands of trees, the scrappy rough ground behind the buildings, the places were urban and rural meet. These are hidden worlds filled with nature, playgrounds for young people and places to just be. But they are also the places at risk if the current planning legislation is passed. For my thoughts on the matter, you can read my guest blog for the National Trust. I believe we must protect and celebrate such spaces, improve our access to them and ensure that nature has a free hand to flourish. We should all live a little more for the outdoors.
Our monthly column in the Independent starts again today after a hiatus to allow us to finish writing the book, which came out on Thursday. Click the link below to read the feature and learn a bit about tracking wildlife around you. What animals frequent your street, garden or nearest wood and fields?
I understand it’s easy to track the Hollywood star, Will Smith. You just scan the area and look for Fresh Prince…
For those of you not in the know, the Yorkshire Post is rightly regarded as Yorkshire’s ‘national newspaper’ and the feature, and accompanying images of Leo and I looking fresh-faced and fancy free on the stretch of Jurassic coast running between Robin Hood’s Bay and Staithes, will hopefully help to highlight the importance of reconnecting with nature to the lucky residents of the UK’s largest county.
This heralds the start of a busy week ahead of us. Over the next few days we will be undertaking all manner of promotional and press work as the book finally hits the shelves (wooden, metal and virtual) on Thursday. On the same day, I will be taking to the stage to present to the Yorkshire Post Literary Luncheon; a fine tradition of speeches given by incredible authors such as Pam Ayers and Michael Dobbs, it is also a platform for terrified first-timers like myself.
Then Saturday sees the rekindling of our monthly column in The Independent, starting with the ideal activity to help you slow down and reconnect with the fields and forests: animal tracking. We spent a fantastic day last February tracking a fox through a wood in Wales, waiting up as darkness fell to see his return. He was wolf-like in his wildness, a thick-maned manifestation of the dark wood itself; a very different experience to encountering the more urbanised Reynard, as this image of one queueing for a cash machine (courtesy of @Alsboy) shows!
We are then appearing on BBC2’s The Culture Show, which airs on Saturday evening at 6pm. Viewers will get to see us skimming stones and building dens with presenter, Andrew Graham-Dixon as he attempts to get to the heart of the book and understand why slowing down and undertaking simple activities in nature is so beneficial to us.
Please watch/read/enjoy and let us know what you think!
Marcel Proust once wrote that “a change in the weather is sufficient to recreate the world and ourselves”. He was right; nothing changes our group consciousness so entirely and immediately like the weather.
Yesterday, as snow started to fall across most of the UK, there was a tangible shift in people’s mood for the better. I watched as men abandoned the usual arm’s length distance we all tend to keep each other and helped to manoever wheel-spinning cars, or run to steady someone as they slipped in the drifting white stuff. Sledges came out, kids squealed in delight and adults abandoned their plans for the day, dressed up warm and went outside to play.
Snow reconnects us with nature in a profound way; it reignites our love for the outdoors. We want to be outside, to enjoy it. We carve snow into primitive sculptures, we build temporary shelters from it, we read the symbols wildlife leaves in it. We all become craftsmen, artists, trackers, warriors. But this is the mindset with which we should always approach nature. Regardless of season and weather, we belong in nature; it creates a physical and mental transformation in us. We go out in one frame of mind but always return richer.
The simple joy of catching snowflakes in your mouth!
Having started a walk as the first flakes fell, Rosie and I were lucky enough to have a front row seat as the landscape changed. A veil of grey descended and the soft fall floated down in silence. Bare oak boughs by the river seemed weighed down with the white; all became beautiful, painting-like. Snow has that levelling effect. It levels us too. We become closer to nature and closer to our real nature as a sociable animal, evolved to draw pleasure from our surroundings.
Perhaps we should all remember the joy of snow and aim to always view our landscapes as if a fresh covering of had just fallen.