Kindling a love for nature at Flatford
- Credit: Archant
The RSPB’s Sharon Barker, from the Flatford Wildlife Garden, looks at how important it is that children, and adults, engage in the natural world around them
On land bequeathed to the RSPB in a very generous legacy by the Richardson sisters, Flatford Wildlife Garden sits in the heart of Constable Country by the side of the serene River Stour on the Essex/Suffolk border, just down the lane from the picturesque village of East Bergholt. Since the garden opened in 2011, visitors have enjoyed the buzzing flower borders, the mini wildflower meadow, a young orchard and the productive kitchen garden, all designed to inspire people to support wildlife in their own gardens.
However, all gardens evolve over time, and visitors this year have discovered some new additions nestling in amongst the borders, meandering trails and secret corners. They’ve been added for a reason.
The RSPB’s 2010 report, Every Child Outdoors (visit www.rspb.org.uk/childrenneednature for more details) brought together research evidence that confirmed what our grandparents and great grandparents would perhaps have considered plain common sense. The basic theory is that children increase their physical activity levels when outdoors and are attracted to nature. Some of the positive impacts of children’s engagement with the great outdoors were improved social skills too, along with the development of a positive self-image and confidence in their own abilities – just what we would wish for them.
But there’s no point in drawing conclusions from research evidence unless they’re followed by action, so the RSPB has taken on the challenge of increasing opportunities for children to connect with nature, hence the new additions to Flatford Wildlife Garden. Here, while still enjoying the calm beauty of the garden, visitors now encounter features such as a child-sized nest box, a living willow tunnel that winds its way down a gentle slope towards a wildlife pond, a log bungalow giving a log pile dweller’s view of the world, and – joy of joys – a grassy roly-poly hill that raises a smile on the faces of young and old alike. In fact, the surreptitious straightening of clothes, the rosy cheeks and the slightly sheepish grins in evidence in the garden these days would suggest that the roly-poly hill and the willow tunnel together are doing a great job of re-engaging some of the more mature visitors with the pleasures of outdoor play too!
The theory is that as children experience and enjoy nature, they will develop a sense of responsibility for it, leading to a commitment to protect it. And nature really needs this ongoing commitment. According to the State of Nature report in 2013 (visit www.rspb.org.uk/stateofnature for details), 60% of over 3,000 species assessed in the UK and its overseas territories have declined over the last 50 years, and 31% have declined strongly. Something needs to be done before it’s too late and we lose these species completely. While the teams at the RSPB are working on it, we ourselves won’t be here forever. We need the next generation to carry the torch for nature forward.
So, why not visit the Flatford Wildlife Garden for some ideas? The beautiful garden is open every day until the end of October and there are family nature activities planned for all the school holidays, with no need to book.
Visit www.rspb.org.uk/flatford for details.