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'Green' Kids Befuddled by Nature

A few weeks ago, the results of a BBC Wildlife Magazine survey on kids and nature caused a stir in the British press. The survey found that less than half of those who took the test could identify common birds, insects and plants and that most of them would rather spend time on the computer or with friends than go for a walk outdoors.

Documentary maker Sir David Attenborough (writer and narrator for the BBC's excellent Planet Earth documentary) worried about the implications for future conservation efforts, saying "nobody is going to protect the natural world unless they understand it." Fergus Collins of the BBC agreed, asking "if we can't spark an interest in nature when our children are young, how can we expect them to look after the planet and its wildlife when they are adults?"

In a sense, I can sympathize with the kids who took the test. By virtue of my age, I've spent a lot more time with nature, and I'm not sure I could tell a bluebell from any other blue flower, and I'm terrible at identifying the song of any bird that's not a chickadee, cardinal or a crow. At first blush, this story seems like one we've heard many times before -- children aren't spending enough time outdoors, they're spending too much time in front of television, video games and the computer. Normally, the parents play the role of villain in these stories. What's interesting about this article, however, is not the findings of the study, but who is being blamed.

According to the article, some are pointing fingers not just at over-protective parents, but at conservationists who fear children will damage the environment. Quoted in the article is Dr Martin Maudsley, play development officer for Playwork Partnerships, at the University of Gloucestershire, who says that "environmental sensitivities should not be prioritized over children."