In the Country

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When was the last time you took a walk in the countryside? How about the picture above, any idea what sort of tree it is? Now, hold those answers for a moment as we put on our walking boots, reach for our rucksacks and set out on this week’s Evergreen blog.

Among Britain’s most precious gifts are undoubtedly its captivating countryside and the wonderful wildlife it nurtures. Throughout the seasons we are blessed with nature’s ever-changing scenes and hues, as they are unfurled with vibrant splendour across our landscapes. But how many people are truly aware of Britain’s natural surroundings? Are those of us that connect with nature in the minority or majority?

According to a recent survey, an astonishing 69 per cent of people in Britain feel that they’re losing touch with nature. Thirteen per cent of the survey’s 2,000 participants said that they hadn’t been to the countryside for more than two years; 33 per cent couldn’t identify a common barn owl and 37 per cent of parents admitted that they didn’t have enough knowledge to teach their children about British wildlife. One in three questioned were unable to identify an oak tree, 75 per cent a hawthorn tree and 76 per cent an ash tree. (Incidentally, the picture above shows a hawthorn. How many of you got that right?) The survey was commissioned by Jordans Cereal for the Jordans Farm Partnership, which brings together The Wildlife Trusts, LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming), The Prince’s Countryside Fund and 40 British farms.

In some ways the results are surprising if you consider that we’re hardly short of places and opportunities to connect with nature. The UK has 15 stunning National Parks, which between them attract 110 million people a year, and there are numerous local nature reserves dotted throughout the country. Meanwhile, television programmes such as “Countryfile”, “Springwatch” and "Autumnwatch" are immensely popular and have served to increase people’s interest in wildlife, the countryside, farming and rural life.

On the flip side, though, perhaps the survey’s findings are to be expected with the majority of the population today based in urban areas, while lifestyles – and society - have changed so markedly. Children spend far less time outside when compared to those of us who grew up in the carefree, innocent, low-tech days. For us, the summer holidays meant one thing: the freedom to explore the great outdoors. From morning to late afternoon we would disappear on our bikes (no cycle helmets required!), only returning home to be fed. We would climb trees, build camps, trawl the village stream for tadpoles and ride our bikes for what seemed like miles down country lanes pausing to harvest – but mostly eat - blackberries from the hedgerows! Yes, it was idyllic, but not in a rose-tinted way; we were never wrapped in cotton wool - ours was a rough and tumble generation.

Staying inside was always the last resort for us. Although we didn’t realise it then, looking back we were constantly in touch with the countryside – it was our playground, which fired our imaginations, but deserved our respect. Fortunately, this connection with nature wasn’t limited to our holidays, at primary school we all kept nature diaries, which encouraged an early awareness and appreciation of flora, fauna and the seasons. It was a valuable lesson.

The countryside features prominently in the forthcoming autumn issue of Evergreen, published on 6th September (click here for subscriptions). Our “Countrycall” article highlights a special National Trust project that aims to protect ancient oak trees, and the wildlife they support, in a Somerset woodland. More arboreal splendour tempts us further north in “Rural Rides” as we travel to Aberfeldy, in the heart of Scotland, a place that is famous for the spectacular autumn colours of its birch trees, immortalised by Robert Burns in his poem "The Birks of Aberfeldy".

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