Karen Kay: Space to breathe and find ourselves

PUBLISHED: 11:11 07 July 2016

Blackbird - Turdus merula (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Blackbird - Turdus merula (Getty Images/iStockphoto)


‘And I think to myself, what a wonderful world’. Karen could well be humming that to herself in the Great Outdoors this month

Living in our counties is essentially a life close to nature. Yes, we have bustling towns, but countryside and parkland is never too far away. We are blessed with the Chilterns AONB, the Downs in Berkshire, a lush green ribbon of fields and woodland and acres of farmland, National Trust estates and rural landscapes.

As someone who grew up in the Buckinghamshire hills, riding my bike with my sister down winding lanes and making dens in bluebell woods, I know how much that upbringing has shaped me.

I’m not au fait with all the bounteous birdlife on our doorstep, though I delight in the kites soaring above the field in front of my house. I regularly grab a book to identify garden visitors, though if my father is on hand he’s better than any Observer Guide, quietly informing that it is a 
nuthatch feeding on the treats outside the window.

I can’t pretend to know all the flowers and trees around my home, nor the network of footpaths and bridleways as well as I should. But, I do know it is a landscape to cherish, and whenever possible try to breathe in its joys. When solo, it is my form of meditation. Others do yoga, I stroll through beechwoods to a backdrop of birdsong. With my husband or daughter it’s a chance to step away from life’s demands, and take time to talk as we walk, two people uninterrupted.

My daughter, who is eight, was tramping through a woodland path with my us recently, and had walked ahead with her stick in full ‘explorer mode’, when she suddenly stopped and turned to talk to us. “Mummy,” she said. “When I get grumpy or angry, I think it would be best if you just bring me out for a walk, because this is where I can just be myself and let all of that out.”

I’m always amazed at the wisdom and self-awareness of young children who, if you give them a chance, have an incredible understanding of how simple life can be if you only let it. They are bombarded with info that puts pressure on them to live life a certain way. From TV and films, to smartphone apps, comics and the advertising that accompanies all of these, 21st century life bamboozles them with ideals and aspirations.

But, when we’re walking through the fields watching the sheep mind their own business, we can be ourselves. It is vital we protect these spaces, because they are exactly that, a place to enjoy proper headspace. And for future generations, that is increasingly going to be a critical part of their wellbeing, as life becomes more and more automated and driven by smart systems.

But children need access to nature in order to value it. If they spend their lives indoors, or solely in urban environments, how can they know what it feels like to “be themselves” in unspoiled countryside? Reading an Usborn lift the flap book, playing with an iPhone app, or even watching David Attenborough is not enough to give them an appreciation of the natural world. There’s nothing like catching your breath as you see a deer emerge from a hedgerow. Or the sense of wonder while watching a woodpecker frenetically tapping away on a tree trunk. Or the fascination that comes with a bumble bee going about its business amongst the blooms, knowing that this pollination process is at the heart of virtually every form of life.

A poll commissioned by the Wildlife Trusts found that only one in three British children under 10 has ever climbed a tree and under half have looked for wild flowers with their family. These children are literally having the oxygen sucked from their lungs by a lack of exposure to the beating heart of our planet, and we must do everything we can to let give them the chance to breathe in life at its simplest.

Get them outdoors. Take it slow, let them be bored for a bit. Because that’s when you start to see the world through different eyes, and observe what’s right in front of you. It’s when you start to appreciate daisies, cow parsley, rabbit burrows and the birds and the bees. And then the questions come, and you know that you have done the right thing. If they’re curious about how it all works, we’ve got a fighting chance of preserving it. 

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