Two weeks ago, Birdfair was held at Rutland Water Nature Reserve from Friday to Sunday. As we were on holiday in Scotland, we could only make the third and final day, but I am so glad we managed to experience this fantastic event.
Upon arrival we were greeted by an explosion of colour and noise. I bought a map and discovered I was in one of eight marquees lined on both sides with stalls and things to buy. A lot of them were selling wildlife holidays, so I couldn’t help but enter a few competitions, as well as buy some wildlife art.
One talk we attended was ‘Building a Naturalist’ by Nick Baker, a naturalist I’ve admired for many years. His topic of discussion was getting more children interested in the natural world. In a way, he was preaching to the converted by delivering his speech to an audience of wildlife enthusiasts, but it appears as if the responsibility of making nature a focus for children lies with us, the people who understand its importance.
What I love about Baker is his heart-warming enthusiasm for wildlife. He described his first white plume moth (Pterophorus pentadactyla) sighting as “like looking at fairies at the bottom of the garden”. He learnt a great deal about newts by collecting them and watching them in tanks – he made a point of saying that this was long before the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 when the handling of British newts became illegal – and read up on them to broaden his knowledge.
“Experience is everything,” he explained, and I agree entirely. The only way to understand the natural world is to be out in it. As much as it pains me to say, reading books will only get a naturalist so far; by spending hours searching the coast or wandering through the forest, they can become a part of the world they’re passionate about.
Baker shared some alarming statistics. In a study of 8-15 year-olds, 53% had never seen a flock of starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) in the UK. Baker described this as “extinction of experience”. Our mentors are becoming an endangered species; with less interest in nature, where are the passionate naturalists who will teach and inspire the next generation? Baker’s mentor was his dad, without whom he may not have had the experiences that brought about his interest in wildlife. For me, my mentor was my mum, and for her it was my grandad. There must be a link between each generation to keep the passion alive.
There will come a time when I get to show my children how incredible the natural world is. I will buy them all the books I can afford and take them on walks through woodland and meadows. We will sit silently in hides and lay on our fronts watching aquatic life in ponds. All this brings such joy to my life, and to the lives of many others. Unfortunately, we are the rare few. It means a great deal to me to watch and study wildlife, but I am no longer the youngest generation. Children are walking sponges and will soak up everything around them; it’s up to us nature folk to ignite their imaginations with trees and birds, as well as TVs and computers.
“It’s innate in all of us. We are born curious… all it takes is a spark of curiosity.” Nick Baker