Today’s post is by Mary Colwell the author and activist who did so much to bring OCR’s natural history GCSE to fruition. Mary is Director of Curlew Action and the author of Beak, Tooth and Claw – Living with predators in Britain (William Collins 2021), Curlew Moon (William Collins 2018), and John Muir – the Scotsman who saved America’s wild places (Lion Hudson, 2014). As ever with our blogs, Mary’s views are not necessarily shared by the Association.
Imagine being so unaware of your own home that you don’t notice a thief coming night after night and taking things. It starts with a precious vase, a family heirloom, then the toolbox under the stairs is gone. After a while the book shelves starts to thin out, all those useful reference books – the novels, poetry anthologies, the books from childhood and the favourites you like to dip into in the evenings – all that repository of intrigue, beauty and mystery disappear one by one. After a while the paintings on the walls start to vanish. You don’t notice any of this immediately, though, because everyday life distracts your attention. You might get a feeling that it is emptier, less colourful and interesting than it used to be, that there are fewer things to bring back memories or give you joy, and it is annoying you can’t find useful stuff sometimes, but it still works OK, and anyway, you can buy more. It is only when then the carpets, chairs, tables and kitchen equipment disappear that you realise there is a crisis. Your home is now too difficult to live in, too much has gone, and even though you realise that it is your carelessness and lack of awareness that has caused it, and you secure the doors and windows, it’s too late, your home is a shell. The thief or thieves now start on the roof and the walls…
Ok, it may seem like a far-fetched and imperfect analogy, but it makes the point. The house is the Earth, the thieves are climate change, agricultural policies, insensitive developments, extractive industries and so on. The precious objects are wildlife. One by one they are disappearing from the Earth, but not many people notice. Over the last few generations society has become nature-illiterate, we don’t know what anything is, we don’t know the name of anything or have a relationship with the natural world. We are increasingly indoors, inward-looking and self-obsessed, the world outside a passive diorama that is nice to look at sometimes, somewhere to go on holiday, but not much more than that. As a consequence, precious wildlife is slipping away unnoticed and un-mourned. Our home is increasingly threadbare and quiet when it used to be vibrant, colourful and alive with natural sounds. Does this matter? Yes. Not only are we losing endless sources of joy, fascination and life-enhancing experiences, we are losing the very stuff of the ecosystems we rely on for healthy food, fresh water, clean air as well as for our spiritual and mental well-being. We are losing creativity and inspiration, it is draining away from our lives and we are far, far poorer for it.
It is essential we tell children that their home is precious, that it matters, that the life around them has a value and a right to exist – and that it is essential for the survival of humanity. We must show them how to notice and to care. We have to connect children to the natural world and teach them the names of things and what life needs to thrive. Future generations will have to sort out the mess we have made and they must be given the tools to do that. They must be plugged into nature, drawing from it the life lessons that will keep the Earth functioning and, crucially, keep us sane. We will rely on future generations to make wise decisions for all of life on Earth.
Young children are fascinated by the natural world. Somehow, by the time they are teenagers we have managed to beat it out of them and transform the living world into a scientific concept, a niche interest, a source of resources or an inconvenience. The sooner we rediscover that most ancient of relationships and understand how much we are interconnected with all of life on Earth, the better. To be part of the natural world is to be fully human, we break that tie at our peril.
Mary can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org