7 tips to get children interested in nature

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By Lisa Salmon 

Naturalist Chris Packham wants the nation's children to learn to love wildlife, but he's got a lot of work to do - research suggests today's kids are better at identifying Pokemon characters than British wildlife, one in six haven't seen a single bug in the past six months, and 10 per cent don't know honey comes from bees.

In a bid to get children to be more aware of the diverse wildlife around them, Springwatch presenter Packham is supporting Big Bugs on Tour  , where 12 super-size models of British bugs are touring into shopping centres nationwide until September 2019.

As research has found being closer to nature makes you 67 per cent happier, Packham has these 7 tips to get children to appreciate nature:

1. Get them into insects

"They're a group of animals which is in serious trouble in the UK - we're losing so many of our invertebrates and they're key to the food chain, so their decline is leading to other declines.

"It's due to loss of habitat and intensive use of pesticides, and it's no wonder we've lost so many of our birds as well - there's nothing out there for them to eat. That's a tragedy," says Packham.

"Although some invertebrates have become endangered, they're still commoner and easier to see in urban and suburban environments - we should be able to go into our gardens and parks and see some of these
animals, like bees and black ants. They're extraordinary - kids should look out for them."

2. Insects aren't 'pests'

"Unfortunately, many insects are considered 'pests' - not a word I like to use myself. But from my point of view, it's just a challenge to re-educate people. Hornets, for example, feed on lots of other insects, so if you've got a garden or an allotment, the more wasps or hornets you've got, the more veg you're going to produce because they eat all the caterpillars that feed on the veg.

"There's an armoury of pesticides designed to kill garden 'pests', and it's this intolerance to other life which we need to confront. I'm always dismayed by the number of ant poisons - what problem do ants possibly cause? We need all these animals to make our ecosystems function - there's a balance of nature there if you leave it alone and don't poison it.

"You need tolerance, re-educate yourself, and think of the real value of creatures like ants to the environment. Leave them be."

3. Get up close to nature

"First-hand experience is important - young people need to engage with wildlife, meet it, smell it, touch it, get slimed, stung, and bitten. It's those sorts of things which fuel a curiosity and develop an affinity. Young people see wildlife on TV, but we need to get them in the parks and nature reserves picking animals up and meeting them.

"There's nothing more magical than a ladybird climbing to the tip of your finger and flying away. That's the one thing that probably inspired me - when I was very young I used to collect ladybirds in matchboxes."

4. Get kids outside

"Get them out into green spaces - it doesn't have to be 'the countryside', there are lots of green spaces in our cities. We function better both physically and mentally in green spaces, and it's good for
exercise."

5. Gen up

"Find out about animals, and how you can help them in your green space - what to feed hedgehogs and foxes etc. Feed them at a safe distance so they don't associate humans with food. I feed my foxes over the fence so
they don't think of my house being a source of food. They just come out and it's magically there and I get to see them, which is a bonus. I want them to keep their natural caution when it comes to human beings.

"Gen up, read stuff, and make sure you've got some information for the kids."

6. Feed and water wildlife

"Fundamental resources - water, food and shelter - are what we can offer wildlife if we're lucky enough to have gardens. Children can put water out for animals, and certainly for birds who need it to bathe in too.

"Feeding the birds brings them closer to you. You can put a bird feeder close to the window, and get super close-up views of birds - my bird feeder is about 2m from my kitchen window. It's a perfect way to engage with birds for kids, and there's also the feel good factor that you've helped another species survive."

7. Look for garden wildlife

"Tended gardens are normally full of flowers and therefore nectar, which is fuel for insects, and if you've got insects, you've got birds which come to eat them. Urban and suburban gardens can be a very important resource for wildlife, and it may do better there than it would in the countryside - common frog and common toad are declining in the countryside and holding their own in suburbia. Birds like song thrushes
do better in towns now than they do in the countryside too."

Catherine Devane