This week the BBC’s Springwatch program has included a series of films featuring Chris and Martin revisiting their childhoods to experience the things that first got them hooked on nature. Pond dipping, searching for snakes and fossil hunting have all been covered and that got me thinking about what first grabbed my interest. When I cast my mind back the influence of my parents is clear with walks through the countryside, bird watching and photography all playing an important part in my upbringing. There are three distinct events which really stand out for me though as key moments where a lifelong love was formed. The first was undoubtedly spending three hours in a hide on the RSPB’s Minsmere reserve looking for my first Bittern, a wait that was ultimately rewarded with two in-flight views and a superb booming display. I can still remember almost every minute of that vigil right down to where I was sat in the hide and even have the notebook in which my thirteen year old self noted down his excitement.
The other two memories are from my parents back garden and were on a smaller scale, though by no means less significant. The appearance of Burrowing Bees one summer had me on my hands and knees for many an afternoon whilst I watched enthralled as a series of tunnels were slowly excavated. I seem to remember even proudly pointing them out to friends during one of my birthday parties. The next was much less mobile, though just as fascinating, and is commonly called Cuckoo Spit. I’m sure I originally took the name at face value but now know it for what it truly is. The frothy liquid is actually secreted by immature nymphs of a sap-feeding insect known as a Froghopper, and is presumed to act as a protective barrier to the creamy white insect within. It causes no harm to the plant but always manages to get on your hands no matter how hard you try and avoid it. I was pleasantly surprised yesterday evening to find my garden well endowed with ‘spit’ and promptly set about reliving my childhood.
I’m sure that many of you have similar memories, but what about children of today? The National Trust recently released a list of fifty things to do before you’re eleven and three quarters (link), and I for one am happy to say that I’d managed to achieve the whole lot, bar two, by that age. If you’re kids can’t say the same then get them outside now so that we don’t lose a whole generation to the TV and internet. Who knows, the next Chris or Martin could be out there already, just waiting for their interest to be stirred.