Let our children explore nature, says John Craven

John Craven will be one of the many famous faces at Castle Howard

How can we expect children to value nature if we don’t allow them to explore it for themselves? The veteran BBC presenter firmly believes that a muddy child is a happy child.

Kids may be spending less time outdoors and more time stuck on gadgets inside. But the problem isn’t with the children themselves, according to the BBC’s John Craven.

‘I don’t think it’s the children that need to be reconnected with nature,’ says Craven. ‘I think it’s the parents who need to allow their children to be reconnected.

Learning to take risks

‘A lot of parents these days are reluctant to let their children take a chance.’

No-one is recommending taking unnecessary risks. But loosening the apron strings a bit could be the key to a far richer – and happier – childhood.

‘Children need to be allowed to do the things that I used to enjoy when I was a kid,’ says Craven. ‘The things the parents probably used to do as well.’

For too many children opportunities for tree climbing and making dens are simply not there anymore.

For example, John Craven was shocked when he realised how many modern children have never actually touched a farm animal.

Future naturalists

‘How can we expect children to be the future protectors of the countryside if they’ve not had experience of it themselves?’ he says.  ‘If they haven’t been wading in a little stream? Or had a ladybird on their hand? Or held a butterfly?’

Given the chance, he believes children take to nature and outdoor play with enthusiasm.

‘I’ve filmed several times on farms that have had children to stay,’ says Craven. ‘The children are a delight. They get their hands dirty and get muddy. They’re mucking out the cows and having a whale of a time.’

A place of peace

And the great outdoors doesn’t just offer the chance for children to have an adventure. Nature can offer solace and peace as well.

‘A farmer once told me about this little autistic boy who came to stay on his farm,’ says Craven.

‘This boy had never spoken in his life. He was in a barn with some little chickens running around in the straw. His carer just looked round the door and he was talking to the chickens. It was the first time anybody had ever heard him speak. And it happened because the boy felt safe and he was actually making contact.

‘Every child can benefit from that kind of experience.’

The British countryside has helped children to grow up for millennia. Craven calls on parents to remember what it has to offer and let their children find a place in it.

‘I’ve been to getting on for 90 countries,’ says Craven.  ‘To me the British countryside is still the best place on earth. The variety is incredible.

‘I love to be in it and I love to get back to it. I can’t think of anywhere that can hold a candle to it.’