Wild things in the city: meet the interns!

She rolled, head over tail, down the grassy embankment before coming to stop in a tumbled heap beside the pavement. A passing car hooted its encouragement.

Breathless, Eva jumped up. ‘I’m re-experiencing my childhood’, she laughed. ‘That was really good!’ Around her, looking suitably impressed, stood the five other new interns in the Media and External Affairs department  at Heelis, the National Trust’s central office in Swindon.

Taking advantage of rare patchy blue skies, we had ventured out of the office and were heading for a local park in the centre of Swindon. We planned to try out some of the activities on the Trust’s re-launched list of 50 things to do before you’re 11¾. We had barely left the office when Eva, who works on international affairs, spotted the grassy embankment and demanded we stop and have a go at the second ‘thing’ on the new list: roll down a really steep hill.

Re-launched last week, all the activities on the new 50 things list have been chosen by children from across the UK. From climbing a tree to camping outdoors, they are things that can be done anywhere – by anyone.

50 things to do before you’re 11¾ forms part of the Trust’s efforts to connect children and nature. We believe that every child should have the opportunity to spend more time in nature. Unfortunately, many children in the UK aren’t able or willing to spend time outdoors and in nature. A recent study by JCB Kids for their Fresh Air campaign found that children today are spending half the amount of time playing outside as their parents used to when they were children. . Some leading naturalists fear that if children aren’t brought up with a close bond to the natural world, they won’t care enough about nature as adults to want to fight to conserve it. ‘No one will protect what they don’t care about’, argues Sir David Attenborough, ‘and no one will care about what they have never experienced’. 

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Why 11¾?

Some studies indicate that the most significant period in a child’s development in relation to the natural world occurs in ‘middle childhood’ (ages 6-12), before the age of 12. The RSPB’s measurement of children’s connection to nature has taken children from a similar age range (8-12) in order to create its baseline measure against which other children’s connection can be compared.Although it’s important that children forge a connection with nature before the age of 12, the 50 things list is not the sole preserve of the under-12s. They can be enjoyed by people of all ages – the shrieks of laughter coming from the interns as they climbed the tree in our central Swindon park are testament to that fact. They expressed genuine regret that, as adults, they didn’t do things like climbing trees as often as they used to as children. ‘I think I just got old and boring’, sighed Laura, who works on the Trust’s planning campaigns. Smiling, she said, ‘I need to start climbing trees again.’

Which she did. Immediately. And barefoot, too.

Many of the activities on the 50 things can be enjoyed anywhere. You can make a mud pie in a national park or your local city park. We spent a happy time climbing trees and making daisy chains in a local city park, bordered by grey tarmac and greyer office blocks. For Laura, the list represents a way to ‘get out in nature and connect with the wildlife that we’ve got on our doorsteps’. ‘It’s a way for kids to get dirty. It’s a way for kids to have some fun and just connect with the environment around them.’

What we’re doing

We recognise that 50 things is only part of the solution to getting children engaging with the natural world. Following last year’s Natural Childhood report and inquiry, we are now working with a number of organisations to build a partnership, known collectively as The Wild Network. The founders of this movement to connect children in the UK with nature and the outdoors are the RSPB, NHS Sustainable Development Unit, AMV BBDO, BritDoc, filmmakers Green Lions, National Trust, Play England, Play Wales, Playboard Northern Ireland and Play Scotland. Starting in June, The Wild Network will launch a series of campaigns and projects to tackle the barriers to children getting outdoors.

Our first project will be a new, feature-length documentary examining children’s disconnection from nature. Premiering at the Sheffield Documentary Film Festival in June, Project Wild Thing follows director David Bond as he appoints himself Marketing Director for Nature in a bid to ‘sell’ his wonder product to apathetic children – including his own.

 Whilst it isn’t the catch-all solution to children’s dislocation from nature and the outdoors, 50 things to do before you’re 11¾ is bursting with fun activities and could help spark a lifelong interest in the natural world. The intern working on the Neptune Coastline Campaign, Howard, put it simply. Watching Morwenna scrambling across a knotted tree trunk, he smiled. ‘It’s just a great list for adventure and excitement.’

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