This week’s review tackles dirty websites, how to identify centipedes without burying yourself in books, and argues why the RSPB’s Garden Birdwatch is worth an hour of your life, even if it does mean you’re likely to be couped up indoors and not experiencing the great outdoors like Chris Packham wants you to… (Oh, and there’s a weak analogy about chips in there too).
A friend of mine regaled to me an anecdote about childbirth this week. Not long after seeing his wife go through a twenty eight hour labour, finally giving birth to his first baby boy in the late hours, he (my mate, not the baby) was booted out of the hospital by the midwives. On the way home, starving, he stopped off at a chippie. While waiting for his sausage dinner his brain span, bursting with pride, dizzy with emotion. Overflowing with fresh memories, he quietly mentioned to the chippie when receiving the take-away that he was now a dad. “Congratulations,” said the chippie blandly, dumping the sausage dinner on the counter. “That’ll be three pounds eighty.”
I think wildlife’s a bit like this. Ok, the analogy’s not perfect, but it sums up how the very strong personal emotions and inspiration that nature gives you and me, may be viewed by the masses with a complete and blank disinterest and disregard. Put simply, nature is not everyone’s bag of chips*.
It’s easy to forget this when wildlife is something you’re involved in every day. We should have it on a Post-it note on every desk: “There is a wider world out there that just doesn’t care much about wildlife yet”. It’s true. Ever wondered why wildlife news stories are always on the radio at ten to the hour, not ten past? Why wildlife magazines vie for shelf space in WHSmith with motorbike magazines and sewing journals? Why the three main political parties barely mentioned nature conservation in their (now laughably irrelevant) manifestos?
Wildlife conservation is just not a big issue in the public conscience. After all, the RSPB has over one million members - what about the other 61 million members of our (big) society?
The truth is, we’re making inroads, but we have a long way to go in order to make a conservation-savvy society. That’s why it’s so good to see that, every now and then, there’s a wildlife conservation project that breaks into the public conscience.
A wildlife project your mum’s heard of…
Hats off then to the RSPB’s Garden Birdwatch. This classic ‘citizen science’ bird recording project has been running 30 years and every year pulls in 280,000 people, each of whom records observations of garden bird species in a one hour slot over the last weekend in January. “Yes, yes, 280,000 people is still only half a percent of the entire UK population”, I hear you say, but it’s a start. You can realistically expect to hear this one mentioned occasionally by strangers on the Tube, on a bus or, well, in the chippie.
So this year give it a go, if only for the excuse to sit down in your living room uninterrupted for an hour. You can register at: www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch
Big Schools Birdwatch…
Garden Birdwatch’s sister project, the Big Schools Birdwatch, runs from the 24th of January to the 4th of February. The premise is the same: watch birds, record birds, relish birds, and the RSPB website is full to the brim with KS1 to KS3 resources. Plus there’s a neat addition where you can view, and interrogate, your own classroom results. Fantastic stuff – highly recommended.
Of mice and birds, and unidentified centipedes...
The question is: do the RSPB mind if I also record the field mice, the newest of my birdfeeder visitors? (Another Post-it for me this week: “clear seed detritus away from feeder before family next visits”).
In fact, if you do see strange birds or mammals during your classroom birdwatching (or any weird species in your schoolgrounds for that matter) then don’t forget about the excellent I-Spot. This cracking web resource, courtesy of the Open University, allows users to upload wildlife photos, and get other community members to identify them. Superb for those hard to key minibeasts!
Further evidence that there’s a whole world of wildlife waiting for the mainstream to discover comes courtesy of Project Dirt. This website aims to bring like-minded people together to make environmental change happen. If you click on the Projects page, you can see 447 environmental projects waiting for you to tap into if you’re a school or community group based in London.
Field work thumbs up…
Anyone else starting to hear our commoner birds doing some vocal practice laps in the mornings? Yes, spring –the field trip season- is approaching…! In last week’s blog I mentioned the Association for Science Education and their campaign to get science field-trips back on the school agenda. Their report is now released (here) – they’re urging the government to develop a co-ordinated programme of teacher training in fieldwork “to promote a more effective and inspirational approach to teaching science and mathematics using outdoor sites and venues in our towns and countryside”. If you’d like to help them you can get your local MP to sign their Early Day Motion.
While we’re on the theme of getting young people outdoors, it was encouraging to hear Chris Packham supporting the Kids Closer to Nature campaign (am I being cynical or was this one big advert for Arla Foods?). Either way, getting the message out there that a quarter of young people spend too much time slumped in front of the telly is no doubt a good thing. The publicity also said that kids need more time outdoors with nature. Even if it was sales spin from Arla, it was well intentioned and encouraging.
Criminals can count birds too
Talking of getting the masses to love nature, it was good to read this week that the there’s sixty prisoners who are taking part in this year’s Garden Birdwatch . I must admit that my initial response was surprise. 60? Is that all! What else is there to do in prison except look out of the window? However, on a more serious note, there’s no doubt that a brush with nature is good for the soul, and that there’s new skills, training and confidence to be had by new audiences getting into wildlife conservation. This applies also to those involved in work with disadvantaged young people or those with mental health problems. With this in mind, this week’s funder of the week is the Digbeth Trust (Midlands) which helps community groups develop projects that turn “community ideas into community action” through a variety of grant streams, including those targeting mental health issues.
Ah mental well-being… I’m off to get my bird feeders stacked, my lounge windows cleaned, and find my most comfortable lounge outfit ready for this weekend’s birdwatching…
* this is the weak analogy for which I can only apologise.