Grumpy Old Birder

More needs to be done to en­cour­age chil­dren to have an in­ter­est in birdwatching, says Bo Be­olens

Bird Watching (UK) - - Contents - Bo Be­olens runs fat­ and other web­sites. He has writ­ten a num­ber of books

Bo Be­olens wants us to fol­low Mal­lorca’s lead when it comes to enourag­ing our young­sters to en­joy birds

THE QUES­TION I see asked on lo­cal bird­ing fo­rums, more than any other, is “how do I get the kids in­ter­ested in bird­ing?” Some may take to bird­ing like ducks to dab­bling, but most will reach their bore­dom thresh­old after about 15 fid­get­ing min­utes in a hide. The more they are en­cour­aged to en­thuse over the sim­ple beauty of a rare brown blob do­ing noth­ing much, the more, de­pend­ing on age, they are likely to pine for the X-box, Snapchat­ting their friends or ex­clud­ing the real world by wear­ing ear­phones and fo­cus­ing on a Youtube ‘epic fail’. The wild world is not what it was in ‘our day’, when­ever that was. Grey­beards like me, at ju­nior school in the 1950s re­mem­ber a very dif­fer­ent world. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those who thinks the past was all rosy. I re­mem­ber ra­tioning and racism, po­lio and poverty, but there were some valu­able prac­tices that have all but dis­ap­peared. For ex­am­ple, I re­mem­ber proudly put­ting a bird skull or pretty leaf on the school ‘na­ture ta­ble’, which was per­ma­nently in the front en­trance, for us all to see and en­joy. I went look­ing for birds’ nests in the Easter hol­i­days, not to rob them, but to marvel at them. These days kids may be trailed round a city farm at best, or, at worst, rely on un­nat­u­rally vivid Dis­ney-coloured car­toon worlds with nice fluffy talk­ing an­i­mals and equally nasty an­i­mal vil­lains to mise­d­u­cate them about the nat­u­ral world. When I ran youth projects in the 1980s and 1990s, I knew kids who re­ally be­lieved that car­rots grew in bunches and were shocked when they found out where milk came from… we dared not re­veal the truth about the ori­gin of eggs! If our chil­dren and grand­chil­dren are to fall in love with bird­ing they must be­come fas­ci­nated by birds, and to do that they must see how they fit into na­ture and soar above it. There is only one way and I think that it is more or less con­stant ex­po­sure to the real coun­try­side and daily doses of its won­ders. Don’t ex­pect them to en­joy seem­ingly point­less walks or try to stuff feath­ers down their re­luc­tant throat too early… bore­dom is more likely to put them off for life. Why not try tak­ing them ‘geo­caching’, my grand­chil­dren love it… ex­po­sure to fields and fresh air wrapped up in mys­tery solv­ing and the hunt for clues. With younger chil­dren, a walk in the coun­try can turn into a chal­leng­ing game if you set them ‘trea­sure’ like an acorn or a snail shell to find be­fore their sib­lings. The RSPB is tak­ing the ini­tia­tive with a brand-new schools’ pro­gramme with their ‘Big School’s Bird­watch’, but a few days a year will not hook them on na­ture for­ever. In Mal­lorca, ev­ery schoolchild must visit the Al­bufera re­serve ev­ery year, thus ce­ment­ing the re­la­tion­ship be­tween free­dom from school dis­ci­pline and en­joy­ing wild things. Put ac­tive ‘na­ture study’ firmly back on the ju­nior school cur­ricu­lum and don’t you for­get to help them with their home­work!

I knew kids who re­ally be­lieved that car­rots grew in bunches and were shocked when they found out where milk came from…

FU­TURE BIRD­ERS En­cour­ag­ing young­sters to bird­watch is a re­spon­si­bil­ity we all share

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