Most parents have tried at some point to wean their children off electric gadgets, smart phones and TV screens. Nowadays children appear more isolated and solitary than previous generations. Sedentary past-times have led to increased levels of obesity in children and being indoors more has caused cases of vitamin D deficiency to soar.
Without regular outdoorsy pursuits, children also show worrying signs of being disconnected from nature and a growing number have no experience of birds or creatures at all. If we don’t value and respect nature when we’re young, we are less likely to see the importance of protecting the natural environment as we grow older. There is also overwhelming evidence to show that contact with nature and the great outdoors brings untold benefits to children in everything they do.
In Jersey, at the newly opened 16-window Wetlands Centre overlooking La Mare au Seigneur, a year-round programme of activities includes lots of family fun to be had from April to September. The main aim is to stimulate the in-built fascination children have with the simple things that nature has to offer, such as exploding dandelion clocks, daisy chain jewellery, rock-pool rambles and bug safaris.
In the woodlands at St Peters Valley, not far from St Helier, the age-old art of den building is encouraged with experts on hand during school holidays to help with tips and tools. Here, too, it is also felt that climbing trees should be a staple of every childhood.
Mysterious wooded pathways are fringed with wild daffodil, bluebell and lesser celandine, earning the valley a reputation as a wild flower treasure trove to be enjoyed - it’s full of colour from April to the end of July.
In the countryside around Jersey’s spectacular 100ft-wide Devil’s Hole, the important touchy-feely contact that should be part of every child’s interaction with nature is easy. Set in solid cliffs that plummet over 200ft, the surrounding rocky nooks regularly fill with water and can be ‘pond-dipped’ by little hands to discover what is wriggling and darting around in the depths. Sloping trails are great for gathering interesting leaves, feathers and seed pods for nature crafting as are pressed flowers, twigs, stones and shells.
So what can kids expect to see? Well, the Channel Islands’ extraordinary biodiversity is due to its location on a unique biological divide between Great Britain and continental Europe. Jersey is the most southerly place in the British Isles for some species - the red squirrel thrives there. It is also the only place in the British Isles where some European species can be found, like the agile frog.
In the last 10 years, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust has head-started over 15,000 agile frog tadpoles, all of which have gone back to ponds in Jersey’s fertile south-west.
With its trio of SSI’s (sites of Special Scientific Interest) - the cliff-top heathlands of La Lande du Ouest in the south-west, home to rare and migrant birds; the sand dunes in St Ouen’s Bay and Les Landes in the north-west plus another half dozen SSI’s under proposal, Jersey also boasts four marine conservation Ramsar sites blessed with zillions of wriggling inter-tidal creatures.
Children are welcome at the two bird-hides overlooking the St Ouen’s Pond and surrounding bird-filled reed-beds that are also home to dragonflies and damsel flies as well as frogs, toads and newts. Jersey is the only place in the British Isles with a native population of Green Lizards, Europe’s largest lizards with adult males reaching up to 40 cm (16 inches) in length!
Children of every age are thrilled at the sight of bottle-nosed dolphins - it pays to scan the horizon for playful, leaping silhouettes from St Catherine’s Breakwater and Gorey Castle.
Jersey’s unofficial Island mascot is the Jersey toad and this endemic species is held in fond regard by everyone Island-wide. Several wildlife conservations, including the National Trust, Alderney Wildlife Trust and the RSPB, have held bat safaris in the Channel Islands. At least 49 species of butterflies have been recorded in Jersey, including regular visitors that breed such as the clouded yellow, red admiral and painted lady.
At the local park, rocky beach or nature reserve help your child marvel at the wonder of this micro universe before checking out the National Trust’s ‘50 Things To Do Before You’re 11 & 3/4’ website
Count the number of different birds you can see in 1 hour on the beach, in a nature reserve on your campsite – you can download a free bird identifier from the RSPB website: www.rspb.co.uk
Whilst walking outdoors encourage your child to feel (moss, mud), hear (bird song, woodpeckers and grasshoppers), see (butterflies, bees and soaring birds of prey), touch (pebbles, sand, leaves) and taste (blackberries, chives and cherries) nature - the closer he or she gets to the natural world, and the more sensory the experience, the more they will feel a part of it.
Start a collection of rocks, feathers and plants and other “treasures” the children pick up on their outdoorsy adventures. Create crafts from the pressed flowers, feathers, seed pods, twigs, and leaves you’ve collected.
Older children keen to do their bit? Get them a volunteering day at a conservation organisation on the Channel Islands - doing a beach clean-up will get them involved. Try Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust www.durrell.org or Volunteer Guernsey www.volunteer.gg/charity/guernsey-conservation-volunteers