Joel Chudleigh, founder and Chief Executive of Deep Footprints, explores the problems children now have because of their lack of access to nature, and what might be done about it.

Children spend less time outdoors than ever before and, as the National Trust found out in a 2012 study, they have 90% reduced access to open and wild spaces than children growing up in the 1970s. They know less about animals and plants than earlier generations, because of a lack of contact with nature and the outdoors – and often have misunderstandings and fears of wildlife.

It’s my firm belief that we all have a responsibility to develop our communities in a way that benefits the whole of society, and despite what town planners, large scale developers and governments might have us believe – that does include children. As Jay Griffiths mentions in her book ‘Kith’, children fill the “unoccupied territories”, the spaces not controlled by tidy-minded adults, “the commons of mud, moss, roots and grass”. But such places are being purged from the land and their lives. “Today’s children are enclosed in school and home, enclosed in cars to shuttle between them, enclosed by fear, by surveillance and poverty and enclosed in rigid schedules of time.” Streets and wild places empty of children, is a saddening reality that Fly on the Wall founder, Richard Linford, decided he wanted to do something about.

To this end, the team at Fly on the Wall, a UK retailer of wildlife observation equipment and cameras, has built and launched a free game called Wildlife Trackers. This encourages children to go outside to play and learn about common British Wildlife, whilst at the same time being staged online in a social format.

The game has three main aims:

  • As we believe that children have, to a large extent, lost the connection with nature they used to have, we want this game to improve general knowledge of common creatures and open spaces in the UK – through reconnecting kids with these places!
  • We want to actually use technology to reduce the amount of screen time children have, by encouraging them outdoors.
  • Alongside the above, we hope to provide parents, schools and other organisations an easy-to-access, free tool that makes it fun for them to support children in connecting with nature.

This is what one of the player’s mothers, Rebecca, from Surrey, said about the game:

“We really have enjoyed getting out and about, and have lots of ideas ready to hand now!  We’ve had such a lot of fun doing the activities and spotting species, thank you for such a great idea.” 

Range of activities

Within Wildlife Trackers, children can earn points for taking part in various different activities. Some are just simple things such as skimming stones, climbing a tree and building a den. There are also more involved ones that take a bit of planning – you get more points for those ones. As well as earning points for taking part in these activities, children can earn more points for spotting common UK wildlife. In total, Fly on the Wall selected 90 creatures – most that are relatively easy to spot but again some are tougher and may require travel; points are higher for the latter.  Creatures are categorised the creatures into three main habitats: citylife, countrylife and waterlife – of course, many creatures cross over between these categories.

Fly on the Wall wanted to make Wildlife Trackers as accessible as possible because the key aim is to improve the basic knowledge regarding British wildlife, for as many children as possible. Wildlife Trackers has a winner’s league table, for both individuals and schools, which allows children to compete with their friends and also allows schools to compete with other schools. The game is proving popular amongst teachers, as much of it supports the KS2 science curriculum – although we did not actually plan for that!

Children can register for Wildlife Trackers website  Note: they may need to use your email address if they do not have one for themselves, as the game has various email alerts based on rewarding the children for their chosen activities.  See page 26 for more information.


This article was first published in NAEE’s journal, Environmental Education (Vol. 108).  To read more articles like this, you can join the Association and receive three journals a year.

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