Environmental Consultant Paul Lawston looks forward to spring, and reviews a new children's book that explores the importance of our relationship with nature
After the long, cold, dark days of winter, spring is always the most welcome of seasons. A time of green shoots, of new growth and renewal, and the promise of warmth and light. This year, spring has more of a significance to us than at any other time, certainly in my life.
Living through a pandemic has been extremely tough for children, with so many restrictions on their everyday lives. But the one solace we have been able to provide for them has been more time spent in nature. For many children (and adults!), this will have been a huge boost to their mental and physical well-being at such a challenging time.
Through my work as a Learning Manager at the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust's London Wetland Centre, I see first-hand just how positive forming a connection to the natural world is for children. Research has shown that there are profound benefits to well-being from being outside and forming a deeper empathy for the world around us. Developing this empathy will – crucially – lead to children wanting to protect the natural world and become the conservationists of the future.
Books have always been a powerful tool for unlocking ideas in children, and showing them what the world has to offer. So it has been my pleasure to consult on the natural history in Rachel's story of Finn, a city boy with a love for nature. Finn's discovery of green space when all around seems grey, could be the experience of any child who lives surrounded by buildings and roads.
Luckily for Finn, Grandpa Bill recognises his grandson's longings, and steps in to help. Rescue comes with visits to his wonderful allotment, where Finn finds what he needs: hedgehogs, foxes, birds and plants. A living, breathing world.
Not that it's all plain sailing: it's quite a struggle for Finn to develop empathy for the fox, but in the end he learns to understand that every living thing is worth caring for!
This empathy is a strong thread in Finn's Garden Friends. It is so important that children form bonds with animals, especially in the city where many children wouldn't be aware that they live alongside some fantastic creatures. In fact, our cities teem with wildlife, and there is now a strong movement to encourage urban children to explore the natural world.
Many will live in areas with poor access to nature, but through improved green spaces such as allotments, children are able to experience surprising amounts of wildlife. Did you know there are over 300,000 allotments in the UK alone? They are really important habitats for urban wildlife, and great places for children to learn about cycles of growth and renewal.
As children will see from Finn's story, when we look after the planet we find that it looks after us in return.
We hope everyone will enjoy Finn's adventure, and take away some ideas about how to bring children and nature together!
by Rachel Lawston will be published on 1 April 2021 by Pikku Publishing. Price £8.99
Little Green Space February 2021