I spent last night in the wild, camped out on an escarpment above Chatsworth House in Derbyshire.
I was there for Wild Night Out, an event that brought together filmmakers, journalists and outdoor professionals. We had come together to celebrate the unveiling a new, feature-length documentary about children and nature.
Created by Green Lions and BRITDOC, Project Wild Thing follows director David Bond as he takes a funny and revealing look at a complex issue: the increasingly fragile connection between children and nature in the UK.
David Bond, is concerned. His kids’ waking hours are dominated by a cacophony of marketing, and a screen dependence that threatens to turn them into glassy-eyed zombies. Like city kids everywhere, they spend way too much time indoors. He decides it’s time to get back to nature – literally.
In an attempt to compete with the brands that engulf a third of his daughter’s life, David appoints himself Marketing Director for Nature. He sets about developing a campaign and is soon busy selling Nature to British families. His product is free, plentiful and has proven benefits – but will he convince his children?
Meeting academics, marketing professionals and nature experts, David looks at how to get children outside and into nature – and on the way unearths some painful truths about modern family life.
Snug inside my sleeping bag, dozing underneath a cold sky, I thought about my own childhood.
It was hardly untypical. I loved nature as a child, but my brother and I were reluctant to go on long, dull walks with our boring (long-suffering) parents. I loved watching birds and climbing trees, but walks that tired the knees and caused blood-sugar levels to plummet put me off the ‘Great Outdoors’.
Like many, I temporarily lost interest in my early teens – preferring going into town to going into the fields near where I lived on the outskirts of Cambridge.
But compared to some of the children David meets in Project Wild Thing, mine was a childhood fit to bursting with nature.
In the film we meet Mason, a chirpy ten year old growing up within spitting distance of glassy skyscrapers of Canary Warf. Mason shows David around his estate. He shows David where he and his friends play – or used to play.
‘There was quite a bit of greenery around here’, Mason says, pointing through a wire gate into a sandy building site. ‘But they’ve put buildings onto it. They’ve taken a lot of space from us and it’s not really fair.’
Mason takes David to the place he calls the ‘Green Grass’. It’s little more than a verge, littered with dog mess.
Just down the road is MileEndPark; 90 square acres of green space in the heart of East London. But Mason and his friends don’t play there. They can’t get to the park. They’re too scared of the gangs who can run faster than them.
Mason is the kind of child who Octavia Hill, a founder of the National Trust, had foremost in her mind when – over a century ago – she fought to preserve open spaces in the city for all Londoners to enjoy.
Mason’s experience highlights an important theme of the film: that for various reasons many children – especially in cities – aren’t able to get outdoors to experience all the benefits that greenspace and nature can provide. Like Mason and David, we don’t think that that’s fair.
That’s why the National Trust has joined The WILD Network.
The WILD Network is a partnership of organisations big and small working to get kids outside and reconnecting with the natural world. It has been founded by RSPB, National Trust, NHS Sustainability Development Unit, Play England, Play Scotland, Play Wales, Playboard Northern Ireland, advertising group AMV BBDO, Green Lions and BRITDOC.
The WILD Network’s first initiative is Project Wild Thing – Reconnecting Kids with Nature, a campaign that seeks to get kids outdoors and into nature. It launches with a feature-length documentary film.
That film, Project Wild Thing, will premiere at Sheffield Doc / Fest today. If you’re in Sheffield over the coming days there will be two more opportunities to see it: tomorrow at 12.45pm in the Showroom Cinema and at 2.30pm on Saturday at a free, outdoor screening on Howard Street.
So come along this week to watch a thought-provoking look at why it’s so important that all children in this country have the chance to experience a natural childhood.
Tom Seaward is an intern working on Natural Childhood. He’ll be in Sheffield today for the premiere of Project Wild Thing. If you’re in Sheffield this week come along to the screenings and let us know what you think viatwitter @NTExtAffairs. You can follow David Bond’s progress over the past few months on the Outdoor Nation blog.