Kids in Britain don’t play outside so much these days. Where our parents were left to roam at will, and their parents wandered much further still, the children of the early twenty-first century are mostly kept indoors. It isn’t safe to go out – the traffic is dreadful, kids have terrible accidents, everyone knows that the streets are packed with paedophiles and murderers. Nobody knows their neighbours well enough to be sure they won’t eat their kids if they get half a chance.
What would kids do outdoors, anyway, even if they make it that far? Why would they want to play in the grass and shrubs, up and under the trees, when they can stay at home and spend their time playing on computers and smartphones?
This is a problem, if you believe that humans need time with nature to stay sane and physically healthy – and I think the evidence is strong. This is why David Bond appointed himself Marketing Director for nature, and made this film, Project Wild Thing. Marketing nature might be a faintly obnoxious concept, but it’s not hard to see where he’s coming from. The outside world, with its bugs and its plants and its dirt, has to compete for the attention of our children (and adults) against a vast array of highly profitable, heavily advertised consumer goods and activities. What chance does it have?
Bond, the director and star of the film, talks to a range of marketing and branding consultants to brainstorm and market-test ideas on how to ‘sell’ nature to a generation that sometimes seems to have trouble seeing the point of it, and to parents who might think it’s a nice idea, but worry about the dangers of letting their children go wild. The conceit works, as something to hang a film off, and helps to generate some solid practical ideas, but it also underlies its main problems – the film is heavily dominated by upper-middle-class white men, often talking about branding. This is bound to make some viewers wince, understandably, and it’s not clear that it helps that many of the kids he talks to are brown-skinned and often female.
He also talks to a number of conservationists, naturalists and activists, including wildlife presenter Chris Packham and Jay Griffiths, the author of ‘Kith‘, as well as my brother Leo, who talks about outdoors play non-profit Monkey-Do. All make very good points about human nature and our relationships with risk, play and the outdoors, feeding into the strategies suggested for getting kids playing outside.
The film is informative, infuriating and really very entertaining, but I am glad to say it is just one result of the whole process. They also put together a simple, nicely designed app for smartphones, ‘WildTime‘, designed to provide a wealth of ideas about how to engage with the natural world, for anyone for whom it doesn’t seem obvious (and for many children, itisn’t obvious until they actually get out there). Perhaps most importantly, The Wild Network is a growing group of organisations concerned with connecting kids with nature, including the RSPB, the National Trust, the NHS Sustainable Development Unit and hundreds of others. Perhaps these trends can be reversed yet, both in Britain and around the world, but it’s going to take a lot of work yet.