The world needs young nature geeks

They say that whatever issue you have with a toddler, you can multiply by ten for the teenager. Whilst inspiring tiny children about the great outdoors has its challenges, they are nothing compared to trying to keep young people involved with and excited about nature as they hit the often rocky, hormonal years of teenagedom.

I know from personal experience that even the most rural, idyllic childhood doesn’t prevent a rapid descent into nightclubbing and alcohol – who has time for nature then? My children are a while off that, but I wonder how I will keep them connected to our natural world.

Wonderful campaigns such as the Wildlife Trust’s ‘Every Child Wild’ and the work done by The Wild Network help the parents of younger children to embrace nature. Whilst there is no deliberate exclusion of teenagers from these projects (and much remains highly relevant), there is a focus on reaching out to younger children. To then lose that connection in the fug of the teenage years seems such a tragedy.

Time in nature is vital for everyone’s health and well-being and in the turbulent, exam-packed teenage years, stress relief and green exercise are just what the doctor ordered. Despite all the medical evidence, society still thinks it is more normal for a teenager to be holed up in a darkened room on social media than roaming the countryside with a pair of binoculars.

A more worrying aspect is the bullying that young people can experience if they are into nature. Being called a geek, nerd or twitcher can be the least of it. In a world that values material consumption and the quick thrill of the digital, choosing to spend time, often on your own or with the older generation, can mark you out as an odd ball.

A Focus on Nature is a youth nature organisation aiming to address this. It offers a community for young people who love nature, as well as looking at the wider issue of disconnection of teens from our natural world. The website is full of stories of young conservationists getting out there and not just connecting with nature, but taking real action.

Wildlife charities do offer teenage options for involvement. The RSPB’s Phoenix membership provides Wingbeat, the only environmental magazine written by teenagers for teenagers, and opportunities to become part of and blog on the Phoenix forum. For those interested in volunteering or work experience, most conservation charities can give exciting and varied opportunities that could lead to a career in conservation.

With social media, there is a platform ready and waiting for our tech savvy teens. We would all benefit from more young voices to shock us oldies out of our comfortable complacency and to make caring about our planet the norm, not the geeky exception.

Teenagers need nature and green spaces in their life. It will bring them fun, stress-relief, new friends and turn them into true custodians of our world.

It’s been a while (ahem) since I was a teenager and I don’t yet have my own, so I’m very interested in your thoughts and experiences on this important issue.

 

First published in the EDP and EADT.

 

The drones are coming to a field near you

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Amazon recently hit the headlines with the news that parcels could soon be delivered by drone. This was met with some ridicule, as many people realised that the drones, basically unmanned aerial vehicles, would probably be more valuable than the packages they were delivering and hence were likely to go ‘missing’.

Whether Amazon’s plans will take off (sorry!) remains to be seen. However, it is undeniable that drone technology will soon be a common part of modern life. This will inevitably raise concerns about privacy and the loss of jobs through humans being replaced, but it also brings some exciting environmental benefits.

Drones are likely to revolutionise the future of farming. Equipped with cameras and other sensors, they could survey crops and monitor for disease. They could also accurately spray pesticides or fertilisers onto plants, thus reducing the overall amounts required. This would be far better for the environment than the current blanket application.

Livestock too, could be inspected from the air, pinpointing their location and backing up regular checks in person by the farmer.

Meanwhile, conservationists are experimenting with drone technology in our region. In the Nene Washes, Cambridgeshire, the RSPB are using thermal imaging drones to count nests and mammals at night. This will help them to measure the breeding success of the birds there, as well as keep tabs on the presence of predators.

This is a task that is normally incredibly time consuming for staff members and volunteers. It is also virtually impossible for humans to carry out accurately. The RSPB is hopeful that in the future this type of technology will help them to monitor vulnerable species across the UK.

So drones may have a green future in farming and wildlife conservation, but I still have some doubts. The countryside should, as much as possible, be a haven from technology. Of course, farmers once just used horses and now we are all used to tractors and combines – both of which are noisier and bigger than drones. Yet tractors move in a predictable way, so you can avoid them on your peaceful walk should you wish. Nor are they filming your romantic picnic!

Regular drones zipping around would undoubtedly ruin the tranquillity of our natural places. There could be safety issues too – a horse rider would be endangered if a drone merrily zoomed by, spraying the crops next to a nervous horse. A farmer would halt their tractor, to allow an upset horse to pass – a drone would be oblivious.

Of course, new opportunities often bring challenges to be overcome. It could be that thermal and night vision technologies mean that drones could just operate in darkness (as in the RSPB example) to address these concerns. However, that would not necessarily be practicable for all agricultural use.

Technology is so often a bitter-sweet solution, both improving and damaging the environment that we treasure. It is not the technology itself that is the determining factor in whether something is overall good or bad for our planet, but rather how we choose to use it.   

First published in the EDP and EADT.