In a bid to reconnect young people with the natural world, a petition has been launched calling for the development of a GCSE in Natural History. The petition is urging the government’s Department of Education to develop the qualification in order to ‘make nature part of British society again’.
Instead of focusing on biological processes, the new syllabus would involve observing and recording nature through the seasons; an amateur naturalist tradition which was once commonplace in the UK. The aim is to help young people to understand the vital contribution that nature makes to our lives physically, culturally, emotionally and scientifically, both in the past and in the present day.
The campaign is being led by Mary Colwell, a radio and TV producer who is also a keen advocate for nature conservation. Last year, Colwell completed a solo 500-mile walk spanning from the West Coast of Ireland to East Anglia in an effort to publicise the plight of the endangered Curlew bird. Her efforts gained a response from the Irish government, who created a task force to try to protect the bird.
Britain’s reputation for recording its natural history was once unsurpassed anywhere in the world, but now, Colwell believes that new generations are becoming increasingly disconnected from the world around them.
Indeed, a survey conducted last year found that three-quarters of UK children now spend less time outside than prison inmates do. In only a few years, the time spent by children playing in parks, woods and fields has shrunk massively. Shockingly, it was also found that one-fifth of the children who took part in the survey did not play outside at all on an average day.
As well as taking negative effects on children’s physical and mental well-being, Colwell believes that this enclosed lifestyle has led to indifference surrounding environmental issues. The first State of Nature Report, which published in 2013, reported that 60% of wildlife had declined over the past 50 years. Out of the species assessed, as many as one in ten faced extinction. By making young people more aware of the natural world, Colwell hopes that they’ll become more interested in its future conservation.
She commented that “British society has never been so hands-off and ignorant when it comes to nature. We can no longer name common species or know the basics of their life cycles and what they need to survive. It is therefore not surprising that as nature thins out we hardly notice… As we lose species, we lose interest”.
In 2015, a group of authors including Margaret Atwood and Michael Morpurgo joined forces to protest nature-related words being removed from the Oxford Junior Dictionary. The dictionary is aimed at is aimed at seven-year-olds starting Key Stage Two, yet words describing the natural world such as ‘acorn’, ‘catkin’, ‘buttercup’ and ‘conker’ had been taken out and replaced with digital terms such as ‘blog’, ‘broadband’, ‘cut-and-paste’ and ‘chatroom’. Despite the signatures of over 28 notable authors, the nature vocabulary was not restored.
It seems that education on the natural world is needed now more than ever before. If the petition reaches 100,000 signatures, then the government will be required to respond and debate the issue in parliament. The petition had already gathered 7,000 signatures at the time of going to press, and it will expire on 9th July.