Spreading their wings: the next generation of young conservationists


Tom Bawden
Saturday 06 September 2014 10:49

Twelve-year-old Findlay Wilde is credited with playing a key role in raising awareness about the endangered hen harrier bird of prey.

Henry, the 6ft model hen harrier he built last month, is already legendary among birders thanks to widespread tweeting, while Findlay published an open letter to incoming environment secretary, Liz Truss, on his Wilde About Birds blog. “I hope you think through how you’re going to manage Defra [her new department]….You are making decisions about my generation’s future,” he wrote, letting her know that he’ll be watching her. But Findlay, it seems, is a rare breed.

“I don’t know any other kids at all that have an interest in wildlife. But a lot more children need to get involved to help protect wildlife in the future,” said Findlay, who has just started Year 8 in the village of Moulton, Cheshire. He was among about 200 young people who descended on Cambridge University yesterday, for a two-day conference called “a focus on nature”.

Madison Wales, 21, one of the speakers, agrees young people need to do more to help the environment. “Britain is very good overall, but I think the missing link is people of my age, and teenagers,” she says.

“A lot of people at school think they’re a bit cool for nature, but you don’t have to like geography or science to appreciate it. Young people need to be better engaged to ensure they are interested,” added Ms Wales, a history graduate of the University of Nottingham.

Injecting a bit of environmental history into the national curriculum would be invaluable, she argues, by engaging pupils through interesting stories, for example about the “pillaging of the wild buffalo in the US”. Other delegates blamed the lack of interest among their peers on parents not encouraging children out enough, “no ball games” signs and the diversions of television and the internet.

“It’s really disheartening to see ‘no ball games’ signs because it’s basically telling the children ‘this place isn’t for you’,” said Emma Websdale, who works in communications at the Wildlife Trusts and is 25 today.

She says she has noticed an increase in environmental engagement among young people, as social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook make it easier to communicate.

“Last week, I foraged for cherry plums and blackberries, made a crumble and tweeted the photo. Four friends said it inspired them to go foraging themselves,” Ms Websdale said, adding that there are hoards of people in their 20s quietly volunteering for wildlife groups and getting very little attention.

Twenty-somethings are also setting up new conservation groups for younger people, said Maddy Bartlett, also 25, who lives in Bristol.

“The main naturalist societies tend to have an average age of 60 or 70, which is too intimidating for young people. We created a group for 18 to 30 year olds in March and we’ve already got 400 members, which shows there’s an appetite that isn’t always being satisfied,” Ms Bartlett said.

A new breed of young internet-led naturalists also seems to be emerging, says Ms Websdale. Apart from master Wilde, there is 12-year-old Mya-Rose Craig, another delegate.

She writes the “bird girl” blog and is famous in birding circles for being the youngest person to spot 3,000 birds, which she managed in February when she was 11. She is now up to about 3,700.

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