Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Why Hugh Fearnsley Whittington is not a sexy Gaia

This week’s review asks what better stirs people into action: sexy HD wildlife shots from the BBC’s Natural History Unit or Hugh Fearnsley Whittington shouting about the ludicrous state of the EU policy on fishing? Oh, and there’s resources to help communicate the sorry state of our oceans to others, news on funding from Tesco and an introduction to the RSPB’s Classroom Birdwatch. And (in a celebrity special) there’s two mentions of Davina McCall…

I’m going to tell you something weird. I have a recurring fantasy about what happens when you die. I have a theory (without any science to support it) that when you die you enter a de-briefing room where a Davina-esque demigod allows you to see your “best bits”, and interrogate your life’s events for interesting statistics.

These are the three statistics I’d love to know about my own life: i. has there ever been a moment when an animal has assessed whether or not I'm worth eating, without me ever knowing? (Was a bear watching me pass on that lonely walk in Canada? Was it a shark that bumped me from behind while snorkelling all those years ago?). Statistic ii. How many ticks have I had on my body without me ever knowing (ok, this is my own neurosis speaking); and Statistic iii. Would I still be into wildlife if there was no such thing as the BBC Natural History Unit?

This last question pops into my head every time the BBC releases a new ‘ground-breaking’ nature documentary series: a sexy Gaia-porn showpiece like Blue Planet, Planet Earth or, this week’s, Human Planet.

These programmes drip with beauty, and everyone (wildlife fan or not) appreciates them, but they rarely mention the fact that we’re buggering up this sexy planet, and we (not-so-sexy humans) need to do something about it.

Some people argue that this is a missed opportunity when the audience ratings for these Natural History Unit treats are invariably very high. Rarely is there a call to arms - a sad emotional “we have to do something” end to the narrative. The BBC Natural History Unit would argue that these programmes are the step-before; that these programmes underline the beauty and importance of these species and their habitats, and that their TV images inspire, and underpin, the conservation work of others in future. In other words these programmes are the public gateway to high-end environmental education.

The diversity of these approaches to environmental education were highlighted perfectly this week. At the same time that Hugh Fearnsley Whittington, on C4’s Fish Fight, was exposing the ridiculous nature of the EU Fisheries policy that sees half of all marketable fish thrown overboard, the BBC was showing how Homo sapiens have conquered the oceans in surprising ways like surfing, free-diving, and errr... hypnotising sharks. All of this was (of course) in sensual HD.

Did the BBC show us the glorious gory human efficiency with which up to 73 million hammerhead shark fins are cut off on Chinese star-destroyer-esque vessels each year? Of course not. Should they have? Well, I’m sure that they would argue that the thousands of people signing up to the Fish Fight petition, were inspired to try and protect the oceans by watching Blue Planet a few years ago…(Another stat for our heavenly Davina debrief).

This is a paradox known well to environmental educators or fellow wildlife nuts: when inspiring action from others do you start with scare stories about the fate of the planet, or do you invest in wildlife appreciation, and then casually introduce conservation issues at the end of the session?

Resources that exist to teach others about the fate of our oceans, and over-fishing, abound on the internet. For me, the most powerful images are on Google Earth, care of the Sylvia Earle Alliance (for those that don’t know her, Sylvia Earle is the Jane Goodall of the oceans). On this website you can uncover ocean stories, including looking at the disastrous impact of bottom trawling (China is becoming a recurring theme in this blog...).

The Sylvia Earle Alliance website also has an amazing map that shows where declining fish stocks have occured, decade by decade. (Spoiler alert: it’s like watching an army of Pacmen gobbling up pills, across the planet).

Another good website (particularly for younger audiences) is the Marine Conservation Society's, specifically its Cool Seas programme.

Those seeking sweeping changes to the science curriculum to accommodate more ‘sea learning’ could do no worse than read more about the US-based approach called Ocean Literacy. (Thanks to Autumnwatch’s Maya Plass for that one).

If it’s quiet time you’re after, then how about watching ‘End of the Line’ or ‘The Cove’ (which I confess, I still haven’t seen)?

Lastly, if you’re after a bit of training in using the sea for environmental education, then Archimedes Training are offering an OCN Beach Schools Qualification.

Outdoor learning: every little helps…

Thankfully there is no need for heavenly statistics about the value of outdoor learning. Answer: it works. If you don’t believe me here’s an introduction (courtesy of a nice letter in the Guardian this week), and if you want a big review of why outdoor learning has value look at this. This literature review is the Rosetta Stone for why outdoor learning matters; it translates all of the pre-2004 published research about the issue into plain English. (Hint: save a copy for cut-and-pasting the summary into future funding bids!).

In fact, talking of funding bids, Tesco’s Charity Trust aims to help Tesco support the local communities in which they operate. I notice a number of schools (and their environmental initiatives) are on Tesco's list of organisation’s they’ve supported. Their community awards offer between £500 to £4,000 in support for projects.

Rest In Pieces…

On the downside, it looks like the government is pocketing the Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund. This fund was made up of contributions from the gravel extraction industry. The fund supported lots of wildlife charities in the past, many of them working at a community level with schools. More from the RSPB here

Park life!

Many of these community awards seem to go to primary schools. Where are the secondary schools? If you’re a secondary schools in the southeast you might like to know that the Field Studies Council is on hand to help through a project called Schools in the Park, offering the use of free equipment, and support to make use of nearby parks and open spaces for outdoor learning.

Ready… steady… bird!

Not long to go until the recording-fest that is the RSPB’s Garden Birdwatch on the 29th and 30th of January. Even if you don’t know your dunnocks from your doves, this is great fun – and educational to boot. The Big Schools Birdwatch is from the 24th January to the 4th of February – this year’s it’s the scheme's 10 year anniversary! Many happy returns!

Meanwhile this blog returns next week, neurosis-free.


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