Research has shown that young people's love for nature drops abruptly from the age of 11 and doesn't recover until they are 30, with significant implications for their engagement with pro-environmental behaviours like recycling or buying eco-friendly products.
These are the findings of a new study from the University of Derby, in partnership with the University of Exeter, Natural England, Historic England, the National Trust, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and The Wildlife Trusts. The study, led by Miles Richardson, Professor of Human Factors and Nature Connectedness at the University, analysed survey responses from almost 4,000 adults and children.
Young children are routinely fascinated by nature if exposed to it, yet interest appears to dwindle abruptly from the age of 11.
Participants rated the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with a selection of statements, to determine their level of nature connectedness: this allowed researchers to develop a Nature Connectedness Index (NCI), running from zero to a maximum score of 100. The data revealed some key insights.
The average level of nature connectedness across the population was 61, and there is a sharp dip in people's connection with nature from 11 years old, with a slow recovery by around 30. Females scored significantly higher than males – 64.21 compared to 57.96. Those who strongly agreed with the statement "I am concerned about damage to the natural environment" scored a mean NCI of 76, while those with the maximum NCI score of 100 were significantly happier, more satisfied with life and less anxious than those scoring below the maximum.
The research also provided insight into how strong nature connectedness needs to be to deliver the pro-environmental benefits required for a sustainable future. The most straightforward behaviour, recycling, was associated with an NCI of 63, just above the population average, whereas the NCI of the 5 per cent of people who gave up their time to volunteer to help the environment was 76.
The research identified that teenagers lose interest in nature at around the age of 11 (University of Derby).
Professor Richardson said: "There are a number of possible reasons for teenagers' dip in nature connectedness. Adolescence sees the move from primary to secondary school and is a time of many developmental changes, including the emotional regulation required for successful social relationships and the development of self-identity.
"Previous studies have shown that greater interest in the self, such as through 'selfie taking', is linked to lower nature connectedness. It may be that during this time of change, one's connection with nature loses relevance and importance.
"Time is tight. The data suggests a mean NCI above 70 is a minimum required to help deliver a sustainable future. That's at least 15 per cent above the current average of 61, with a 25 per cent increase to 76 associated with the meaningful attitudes and behaviours that would make a sustainable future more likely. With the right approach, nature connectedness can be increased, but ways to reach non-nature lovers are urgently needed."
There are fears for the future of Tice's Meadow after the Surrey nature reserve was put up for sale by owners Hanson. News of the sale has been described as a shock by the local bird group, with outside fears that the land could be purchased for housing development.
The wetland reserve, situated between Aldershot and Farnham, is a former quarry and owned by Hanson, a building materials company. The timing of the decision to sell has come as a surprise, with Tice's recently winning an international conservation award and current projects including a new hide and resurfaced path for visitors with impaired mobility.
Tice's Meadow, a former quarry, has been converted into a dynamic nature reserve, with 1,115 species of wildlife recorded (Tony Hordern).
Mark Elsoffer, Tice's Meadow Bird Group secretary, said: "The news that Hanson is actively marketing Tice's Meadow for sale has come as shock to our members and the local community. The timing is particularly surprising as 2018 was such a momentous year for the site – we won a prestigious international conservation award, completed 5,000 volunteer hours on site and raised £40,000 to reinvest back into the nature reserve."
The site is afforded protection for 20 years following the anticipated sign off by the local council, but after that period any prospective owner is in full control. The worst possible outcome is that Tice's Meadow is used for housing development, though horse grazing is another threat.
More likely is that it's bought by a developer as a Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace (SANGS). This will give Tice's 100 years' protection and guarantees funding, but it currently fails to meet Natural England's SANGS criteria, which includes the necessity for public access throughout an entire site, as well as a rule that states funding isn't allowed to be spent on areas where dogs can't be walked.
The perfect – though unlikely – scenario is that the RSPB or The Wildlife Trusts purchase the site. In the Home Counties south of the River Thames, one of the most populated areas of Britain, there are few RSPB reserves. Tice's Meadow is an important site for wintering, passage and breeding wildfowl, waders and terns, and includes important habitats such as wet meadows and reedbeds. It hosted Britain's eighth Eurasian Crag Martin in 2006. As a result, the site should appeal to any conservation body.
Mr Elsoffer added: "At the moment we are waiting to see who, if anyone, will make an offer to buy the reserve. While we remain open minded, we are determined to fight any attempts at inappropriate development, splitting the nature reserve amongst multiple owners, or any plans which fail to maintain public access and don't have the best interests of the site's biodiversity at heart."
Wild Justice has launched a new legal challenge, this time of DEFRA and its failure to assess the impacts on sites of conservation interest of releasing 50 million non-native gamebirds into the countryside.
The non-profit company, set up by Chris Packham CBE, Dr Ruth Tingay and Dr Mark Avery, sent a Pre Action Protocol letter to Michael Gove on 10 July. The team is launching a crowdfunder on Thursday 18 July at 10 am to raise £44,500 to cover legal costs. The aim is to force Michael Gove and DEFRA to assess the impacts of non-native gamebirds on native wildlife.
An estimated 43 million Common Pheasants are released into the countryside annually (Eddie Seal).
Every year 43 million captive-reared Common Pheasants (and 9 million Red-legged Partridges) are released into the countryside. The numbers released have increased tenfold in the last 45 years and, like most of the rest of the shooting industry's activities, are not regulated by government. More paperwork is needed to reintroduce native UK species into the countryside for conservation purposes than to release non-native omnivorous birds on a vast scale to fuel recreational shooting.
Chris Packham said: "The UK's shooting industry is one of the least regulated in Europe with no centralised collection of any data. No one knows how many birds are released or shot, whether wild or captive bred. So how on earth can that shooting industry claim to be making informed decisions about sustainable harvesting, stocking or conservation?
"What is blindingly obvious to anyone with even a basic understanding of natural sciences is that dumping at least 50 million non-native birds into the UK countryside will have a profound effect on its ecology – it's about time we measured what that effect is."
Gamebird releases and associated shooting are of concern because Common Pheasants and Red-legged Partridges eat a wide variety of native plants, invertebrates, reptiles and even small birds and mammals. These impacts must be properly assessed particularly since release numbers are unregulated and increasing.
As well as this, one in three released gamebirds are shot for recreation but the rest die of disease, on the roads, from starvation or are killed by predators. This bonanza of prey and carrion feeds the numbers of a range of generalist predators and scavengers. High UK populations of Red Foxes and Carrion Crows may affect the numbers of some ground-nesting birds such as Eurasian Curlew and Northern Lapwing, as suggested by a recent study.
Gamebirds are reared in pens that dominate otherwise valuable countryside habitat. Naturally, predators are drawn to them (Pierre Terre).
On top of this, gamebirds – which are often imported – can carry diseases. Furthermore, birds shot by lead can then poison humans and other wildlife. It also goes without saying that the illegal persecution of birds of prey links to gamekeepers protecting their gamebirds. Other, lesser issues include gamebirds causing traffic accidents on country roads, shot birds being dumped because there isn't the demand to eat them and the competition with native species for winter food.
As a result, Wild Justice believes that gamebird releases ought to be regulated. The Habitats Directive requires the UK to assess 'plans or projects' which may affect protected sites of nature conservation importance. There is no doubt in Wild Justice's mind that the release of 50 million non-native gamebirds into the countryside is a plan or project which has ecological impacts and which must be assessed.
Ruth Tingay said: "It's worth noting that the 50+ million figure is only a guesstimate, made by the shooting industry six years ago. For all we know there could be 100 million pheasants and Red-legged Partridges being let loose in the countryside every year.
"The fact that the Government doesn't know or care how many are released, and its previous refusal to assess the extent of the environmental damage caused, will come as no surprise to conservationists who have watched this Government put vested interests ahead of wildlife conservation time and time and time again."
Mark Avery added: "Let's take a step back: if we had never seen a Common Pheasant or Red-legged Partridge in the countryside and someone suggested releasing over 50 million of these omnivorous non-native gamebirds annually would we just nod it through with no concerns?
"No! It's only because this situation has crept up on us through lack of regulatory control that we are in this position. Government has been lax and now Michael Gove must act."
A DEFRA spokesperson said: "We cannot comment on ongoing or potential legal proceedings. We have received Wild Justice’s letter and will respond in due course."
RSPB Scotland has launched a new project as part of their long-term work to help Corn Bunting. Thanks to players of the People’s Postcode Lottery, the Postcode Local Trust has awarded funding for a 'Corn Buntings in the Community' project.
The project aims to celebrate Corn Bunting's return from the brink of local extinction and will create food, farming and wildlife trails for the species. The RSPB has been working with landowners and farmers in Fife for several years to prevent Corn Bunting from disappearing in the region – work has been focused in the East Neuk area, one of the remaining strongholds for the species in Scotland, with the species also hanging on in Angus, north-east Scotland and the Western Isles.
Funding from the People's Postcode Lottery will help Scottish Corn Buntings (Geoff Snowball).
The commitment of landowners and farmers to help Corn Buntings has paid dividends as numbers have increased by 60 per cent over the past four years in Fife, with birds recolonising areas where they have not been recorded for decades. This increase is down to ensuring the population has access to safe nesting sites late into the season, availability of insects to feed chicks and provision of seed food (especially during the winter).
This new, lottery-funded project will aim to provide free Corn Bunting seed mix to farmers and landowners, engaged local communities and visitors with the species and develop walking/cycling routes which will take people to areas where the can see the buntings. It's also hoped that local farm shops and cafes will support the cause.
Alasdair Lemon, from RSPB Scotland and part of the team working on the project, said: "We are really excited to see the Corn Bunting in the Community project get started. The seed mix has been distributed for this year and the Corn Buntings have been making good use of the areas. I've been out to some of the farms and spotted Corn Buntings perching on telephone wires and have run a few walks around the St Monans area already, but I am keen to get feedback from as many people as possible.
"We are really excited to see the final routes and to distribute the leaflet later this year for what we believe will be Scotland's first food, farming and wildlife trails. It's such a great opportunity to raise awareness of the story of these charismatic birds and how farmers and landowners are helping them. It would not have been possible without funding from the Postcode Local Trust so a massive thank you to all the players of the People's Postcode Lottery."
Eight Hen Harrier chicks have successfully fledged on two grouse moors in and around the Yorkshire Dales National Park, making it the second year running the park has held breeding harriers.
Five of the youngsters were bred on a grouse moor estate in the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which borders the national park. As well as this rare positive development in Yorkshire, five other Hen Harrier nests have been enjoyed success on grouse moors across Derbyshire and Lancashire. Some of the chicks have been satellite-tagged by Natural England.
Rob Cooke, Natural England Director, commented: "Natural England is very pleased to see these Hen Harriers, which our volunteers have been monitoring alongside estate staff, fledge. We are pleased to see moorland estates playing their full part in the Hen Harrier Action Plan."
Mr Cooke's praise for moorland estates playing "a full part" seem to sharply contradict with Natural England's own findings in a recent study, which concluded that Hen Harriers in England suffer from abnormally high levels of mortality compared to populations in Orkney and mainland Scotland – and the most likely cause of this is illegal killing on and around grouse moors.
Sonya Greenwood, from the Yorkshire Dales Moorland Group, added: "It's tremendous news that the Yorkshire Dales National Park is seeing breeding success for the second year in a row and this is testament to the commitment by gamekeepers to play their part in restoring Hen Harrier numbers."
However, not all gamekeepers seem committed to the idea. The news follows developments surrounding an adult male Hen Harrier that died after it was caught in an illegally set spring trap on a Scottish grouse moor, as well as a satelitte-tagged female that was found shot on a grouse moor in the Nidderdale area, where five of this year's youngsters have fledged. North Yorkshire is particularly ill-reputed when it comes to raptor persecution and the fact that harriers are fledging on moors nearby to those on which they are still being found illegally killed is a great worry to some conservationists, highlighting the complexity of the problems that the species faces from certain factors of the shooting industry, who continue to consider it acceptable to systematically persecute birds of prey such as Hen Harriers.
One of the nests of Hen Harrier chicks in the Nidderdale AONB (Moorland Association).
Amanda Anderson, Director of the Moorland Association, said: "Our members are delighted to be reporting breeding success of Hen Harrier chicks on their grouse moors. We have been working closely with Natural England to help restore Hen Harrier numbers and they have been very supportive of our efforts.
"Growing the harrier population is a goal shared by many with the countryside at heart and there are many initiatives underway to help make that happen."
However, Ms Anderson's positive words will only hold substance if the English Hen Harrier population actually grows in the coming years – something it has failed to do now for some time. A recent report suggested England has enough habitat to hold 300 pairs of breeding Hen Harrier, yet the species continues to flirt with the status of extirpation within the country.
Dozens of hand-reared Eurasian Curlews have been released onto reserves in Gloucestershire as part of a trial to conserve the species in lowland England.
It is hoped that the birds will join endangered wild populations and return to the Severn Vale in future years, boosting the numbers of breeding pairs in the area.
Eurasian Curlew, recently referred to as the "panda of UK conservation" by ministers, has declined rapidly across many parts of the UK and could be lost forever in some areas in as little as 15 years in if nothing is done, forcing experts at the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) to intervene.
The headstarted youngsters have grown well and are now being released (WWT).
Mark Roberts, Principal Conservation Breeding Officer at WWT, said: "The clock is ticking and we're quickly running out of time to save our biggest wading bird.
"Our team has had their hands full playing Mary Poppins to over 50 curlew chicks over the past several weeks but they've outgrown their nursery and seem to be settling onto the reserve nicely.
"They have a long journey ahead but we're hoping many will return to the Severn to breed when they're older."
The eggs were rescued from nests on military airbases in Norfolk, where they would have been destroyed, under licence, to protect air safety. They were then transported to Slimbridge WWT, where they were raised.
Curlew chicks are able to feed themselves from the moment they hatch. However they will freeze when they're in danger, which makes them particularly vulnerable to farm machinery and predation.
Even in healthy populations, only a small proportion of chicks will survive to fledge. Protecting them during this vulnerable stage and releasing them into the wild once they can take flight boosts the number of fledglings produced by a population – a technique known as headstarting, which has been used successfully in the Russian Far East to bolster Spoon-billed Sandpiper populations and, more recently, on the fens of Cambridgeshire and Norfolk to help Black-tailed Godwits.
Headstarting is just one element of the project which also involves working with farmers to protect nests and chicks by using fencing and changing hay cutting dates.
Over the past few decades, curlews have been struggling to raise their young in the British countryside. Older birds are dying off and there aren't enough young surviving to maintain a stable population. The observed decline of Eurasian Curlew in the lowlands is likely linked to long-term changes to countryside management. Because they often nest in silage fields, their eggs and chicks are prone to being destroyed by farm equipment. The eggs and chicks also suffer extremely high rates of predation, particularly from foxes and crows, which are more widespread in Britain than elsewhere across Europe. Eurasian Curlew is now classed as a Priority Species in the UK and was added to the Red List in 2015.
A headstarted Eurasian Curlew at Slimbridge WWT, Gloucestershire (WWT).
The project aims to work out how to protect Eurasian Curlews in the south-west of England and share these methods with other lowland areas where the birds are struggling.
Curlew expert and Project Officer at WWT Mike Smart added: "There is something undeniably magical about Eurasian Curlew and we want people in southern England to be able to enjoy them, their songs and their habits.
"By working with farmers to delay hay cutting, putting up electric fences to keep out predators like foxes and badgers and introducing head-started chicks, maybe we can conserve curlews here and help curlew in other lowland places like the Thames and the New Forest."
The headstarting trial is a joint effort by WWT, Natural England, the Defence Infrastructure Organisation and the RAF.
Conservation group Cornish Choughs has announced a record-breaking year for nesting Choughs in Cornwall. A total of 12 pairs bred successfully this year, two more than in 2018. On top of this, 10 more young birds fledged this year, with a total of 38 youngsters leaving their nests.
The species has enjoyed a successful last few years of breeding in Cornwall, after the species reappeared in the county in 2001, at The Lizard, following a 54-year absence since the previous last breeding record, near Newquay in 1947. The 2001 birds were proven via DNA testing to have come from Ireland.
A total of 12 pairs of Chough bred successfully in Cornwal this year (Joe Graham).
Chough has a deep-rooted history within Cornish tradition, featuring on the county's coat of arms. Nowadays, following the reappearance at the turn of the millennium and subsequent increase, the species can be found at other sites in the county, including Porthgwarra. There have been records in Devon, too.