Why Babies (& Toddlers) Like The Outdoors : Sun 14th May
Plus Right to Roam, sheep attacks, and grouse moors
Today’s morning edition is about small children and the outdoors. Over the last few years, we’ve all had different experiences of our local woods and parks and meadows, and my own wanderings have often been as a foster parent of a baby or toddler.
The science is in showing that being outdoors is good for us adults, mentally and physically, and there are some very specific ways that the same is true for small children, particularly perhaps for those who’ve come from neglected or chaotic starts to their life.
Today there’s also a slightly longer news round up, and our selected what’s on list. And please read the below, the model for this publication is the same as the Sheffield Tribune: we both need paying subscribers to do the work we do.
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Firstly, Sheffield was one of the pioneers of the Right to Roam movement thanks to the Sheffield Campaign for Access to Moorland and its campaigners.
This Thursday will see a debate in parliament on the subject, so why not ask your MP to attend?
The CROW act over 20 years ago, brought in during the early enthusiasm of the last Labour government, secured rights of access for walkers to roam as they wish over many large areas of moorland where they were once prohibited.
In Scotland, the rights are now extended to people walking, running, cycling, climbing and camping in pretty much all riverside, woodland, countryside and seaside areas too, with what many see as sensible and simple restrictions around property, gardens and some sensitive land.
“Everyone, whatever their age or ability, has access rights established by the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. You only have access rights if you exercise them responsibly,” says the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.
“You can exercise these rights, provided you do so responsibly, over most land and inland water in Scotland, including mountains, moorland, woods and forests, grassland, margins of fields in which crops are growing, paths and tracks, rivers and lochs, the coast and most parks and open spaces. Access rights can be exercised at any time of the day or night.”
Along with the Scottish code go three responsibilities:
Respect the interests of other people
Care for the environment
Take responsibility for your own actions
Why doesn’t England enact new laws to match Scotland and many other European countries, ask modern access campaigners (as did the stalwarts of SCAM some years ago). The modern Right to Roam campaign have produced a guide to which parliamentary constituencies have most and least free access land.
Sheffield Hallam (38th of 533) and Penistone and Stockbsridge (24th) rank quite highly, whilst Sheffield Central is 439th, with 200 square metres of land freely available for ‘open access’ says Right to Roam.
And while 72% of the Peak District is classed as open access land, only 8% of England as a whole has free access rights for walkers.
Secondly, allied to those rights and responsibilities, South Yorkshire Police joined various social media commentators over the last few days warning of dog attacks on livestock and nesting birds.
After the death of one sheep and injuries to others near Langsett, they reminded dog owners that they can face fines and imprisonment, and their dogs can be seized and destroyed if they attack livestock. Witnesses of dog attacks can contact the police at: RuralSYP@southyorks.pnn.police.uk
Thirdly, Peregrine Falcon news: there are now three chicks being fed on St George’s Church tower, so keep your eyes on the University of Sheffield/ Sheffield Bird Study Group webcam or blog for updates.
Fourthly, more news about grouse moors this week. A new, perhaps unsurprising to some, study from the Biological Conservation journal showed that three quarters of the annual deaths of Hen Harriers in Britain between 2014 and 2021 were associated with gamebird management.
And locally, after an area of land on Midhope Moors was burned illegally, the managers, Dunlin Ltd, were fined £1,800 with futher costs and surchages of £845 also imposed in the first prosecution under the new goverment Heather and Grass Burning regulations.
“The fine was completely pointless, by the way,” noted Sheffield & Rotherham Wildlife Trust chief Liz Ballard on social media. “Hardly a deterrent.”
Finally, a few selected events for this week, including the Festival of Debate and Sheffield Environment Weeks. And please, if you have events coming up - let me know in the comments below).
Sun 14th - Hardy Plant Sale at Botanical Gardens
Mon 15th - Volunteer work day at Whirlow Brook Park
Mon 15th - Natural Flood Management - evening talk by Debbie Coldwell of Wadsley & Loxley Commoners at Wadsley Church Hall
Tues 16th - Festival of Debate - Green Infrastructure: Building a Sustainable Future - Online discussion with Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures
Weds 17th - Morning Netwalking stroll at Sheffield General Cemetery with Sheffield Sustainability Network
Weds 17th - South Yorks Orienteers evening event at Wincobank (£6/£3) - newcomers welcome
Weds 17th - Possible evening city centre bike ride round local wildlife sites with Sustrans - contact: email@example.com if you’d like to take part
Thurs 18th - Festival of Debate - Are Urban Green Spaces Worth It? - Online discussion with Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures
Thurs 18th - Festival of Debate - A Walk & Talk on 'Growing' Resilience in Our Places - evening walk from Manor Oaks farmhouse In partnership with The Green Estate
Fri 19th - Festival of Debate - Just Access to Land - Online and live debate at Quaker Meeting House
Fri 19th - Festival of Debate - Three Acres and A Cow show at the Upper Chapel (£8/£12)
Sat 20th - Morning Walk and Talk with SRWT rangers at Low Hall Wood, High Green
Sat 20th - River Sheaf clean up morning with Sheaf and Porter Rivers Trust
Sat 20th - Sheffield Tree Fayre at Botanical Gardens with the Community Forestry team of Sheffield City Council.
Who’s Playing Out?
Sticks and stones, puddles and mud, wind and rain. Or, a plastic toy with buttons and persistent battery powered jingles. Never mind your toddler, which would you choose?
Over the last six years, I’ve had to take a professional interest in such matters as a foster carer of 0 to 2 year olds. I’ve taken courses along with my wife, and read the reports, which conclude that, as generations of parents before us knew from first hand knowledge of irritable children sitting around at home: “Why don’t you get out and play!” is good advice.
Over Covid and lockdown, we looked after a small boy who’d spend much of his first year inside a small city apartment. He couldn’t yet talk, so we have no idea what he really made of the city’s woods and moorland edges, where we took him every day.
But his complexion improved as quickly as his confidence, and after he learned to walk with us, we realised his surefootedness probably came from having to take his first real steps on bumpy woodland paths, rather than flat indoor carpets. He’s moved on to live with a new mum now, who says he never falls over when he’s running, unlike his older brother and sister.
A host of organisations are now keen to get youngsters outside more often, from conservation charities to your local forest school, and they all issue press releases and reports of varying scientific rigour making the case for more outdoor play.
It’s clear that modern children spend less time outdoors than their parents and grandparents, often playing on screens or watching television for several hours a day. Less than one in ten modern children play in their local green spaces, compared to almost half of their parents’ generation.
Author and journalist Richard Louv coined the non-medical but catchy phrase ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’ in his bestselling book: ‘Last Child in the Woods’ in 2005. Recently he said Lockdown brought home to people how important getting out into wild spaces was, for them and their children.
“As young people spend less of their lives in natural surroundings, their senses narrow, both physiologically and psychologically,” he said.
Our streetscape and access to green spaces is part of the problem. Another well quoted statistic is about a child’s ‘radius of activity’, the area around a kid’s home where they are allowed to walk or cycle without adult supervision, which has reduced by about 90% since the 1970s, when 80% of seven and eight year-olds walked to school, often alone or with their friends.
The result is that many kids only go to their local woods or parks if their parents take them. A few years ago I was told by a ‘play worker’ in Endcliffe Park that working class kids in the city’s northern and eastern estates had happier lives than their south western contemporaries, as they were still just going out to play with their mates in the summer holidays. As traffic across the city has increased and indoor attractions are more all consuming, I’m not sure that’s still the case.
And although many working class kids do still get out to their local parks and woodlands, getting out into the Peak District is a different matter. Any national park ranger will tell you of urban kids brought out for a school trip panicking about farm animals, or confusing highland cattle with wooly mammoths.
“We sometimes meet children who’ve never seen a sheep or a duck before,” said one ranger on her rounds in the White Peak.
The evidence I’ve looked into for our pre-school foster kids seems to show that playing outdoors is good physically for motor control and muscle development (uneven surfaces, strange shaped and differently weighted objects to pick up, climb over or otherwise deal with by working them out yourself).
It’s also good for eyesight development, as you have to focus long distance and deal with ever changing light conditions, rather than looking a few yards across a bulb-lit room.
As parents and grandparents have always known, being outside during the day helps babies and toddlers to sleep more easily, whether that’s because of all the extra stimulation they see and feel and hear and smell, the chemicals given off by trees and plants that make us more relaxed too, or the real daylight they encounter, is not so clear. But if you want to get a toddler to nap or a baby to sleep at night (and who doesn’t?) the outdoors is your friend.
And then there are all the social and cognitive aspects of being out in the wilds that we don’t always appreciate. But take your toddler to a strange and bumpy place full of waving trees and dark shadows and uncertain noises, and add another toddler or two, and they will begin to start working out their world and their new friends all together, without really thinking about it.
The ‘attachment’ theory of child development is put into practice very nicely in a weird and wonderful woodland: a child knows the adult is there for support, and can then turn and face the exploration of a genuinely uncertain world around them with confidence, with or without playmates.
And finally, as any conservation professional will tell you, getting kids at an early age to love and appreciate the natural world makes them a lifelong friend of wild things.
The work has been done, and the old ‘get thissen out, it’ll do thi good’ message to the Outdoor City’s kids is corroborated.
Last year, I remember taking the baby we’d cared for since her first days out into the local woods. She’d loved the outdoors from the beginning, and we have countless pictures of her laughing in the rain, and wide eyed in the winter snow.
She’d been born with a variety of illegal drugs in her system, so we knew her early cognitive and social development was particularly important to help her brain grow away from that initial shock and disorder. (She’s doing fine now - living with her adoptive parents, she’s still out every day).
She was in the backpack, and it was drizzly and breezy and would soon start to go dark, not necessarily the obvious time to go for a walk. She chuntered behind me as we crossed the grass in the park, probably about the dog scampering around, and then as we stepped down under the trees, she burst out laughing.
She had no words at that point in her year long life to say what was funny, but she was looking up at the swaying leaves and branches, waving her arms and giggling wildly, as if something in that moment was more hilarious and amazing than anyone could possibly imagine.
Later today (or more likely Monday), I’ll have the first post for full subscribers, a follow up Dawn Listening piece to the dawn chorus walk post from last week.
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