Sunday 20 June 2010

Health and safety concerns disconnect us from nature

ASPIRING naturalists and conservationists in Dorset and Somerset might not be able to pursue their hobby due to hypothetical risks raised by health and safety issues.

This is the view of veteran television presenter, wildlife conservationist and national icon, Sir David Attenborough.

The idea of young people frolicking across the countryside looking for insects, animal footprints and wild flowers is considered too dangerous due to fears over volumes of traffic and child abduction.

Sir David told a national newspaper: "It is my belief that there is barely a child born into this world who is not initially interested in nature and other creatures.

"Now it is much more difficult for children. We agreed that you cannot have everyone collecting birds eggs but children should be able to collect fossils here and there.

"Those are the ways naturalists are born. I am sorry for legal reasons and perfectly proper reasons that children are no longer allowed to do that."

In his childhood, Sir David cut his teeth to gain his legendary expertise by travelling around rural Leicestershire on his bike, sitting in fields, picking wild flowers and watching animals.

He has expressed his concern that many modern Britons are "out of touch" with their environment and they can do their own little bit to enable wildlife to thrive by digging ponds and planting bee-friendly plants.

Sir David said: "You can transfer the principles of what you see in a decent natural history programme into the studying of nature you see around you."

Whilst there may be many schools in Dorset and Somerset who are doing some sterling work in environmental education, they seem to be others who are unwittingly instituting a culture of fear.

If our communities want our land looked after by future generations, young people have to work with it and on it.

A recent survey carried out by the Home Grown Cereals Authority showed that 17 per cent of both children and young people under the age of 30 thought eggs were a staple ingredient of bread.

The survey also found that 26 per cent of children thought bacon comes from sheep and also that 29 per cent of them were convinced oats grew on trees.

In the same survey, the older generations fared better. The majority of over 40s correctly observed that bread consisted of flour, water and yeast and where oats came from.

NFU president Peter Kendall said: "Everyone should know where primary foods like cereals are grown and the role they place as part of a healthy, balanced diet.

"It is critical that children and adults alike understand more about their food and the role British farmers play in producing it."

What seems to come out through Sir David's observations and the HGCA's survey results is that if young people do not have practical exposure to the countryside and how it works, you are inevitably going to have a dearth of knowledge.

It is vital that groups like Farming and Countryside Education (Face) and Linking Environment and Farming (Leaf) continue their vital work contacting schools and the wider public to arrange farm visits and open days to address these issues.

It is absolutely essential that educational institutions like Kingston Maurward College near Dorchester and Cannington College in Bridgwater have secure futures.

These colleges will provide the next generation of conservationists, wardens, farmers, gamekeepers, food technologists, rural craftsmen and landscape contractors. The countryside can't function without these people.

It confirms what many already suspect that land management issues have been badly neglected in recent years and this has to be reversed immediately.

Rural education is at its most effective in a practical environment so anything that stops this from happening must be amended or scrapped.

(Submitted by Mark North)

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