The Barn Owl
A growing body of international evidence suggests that play patterns among children are changing, fewer children are playing outdoors and outdoor play is increasingly centred on the home rather than natural settings.
The decline has been attributed to a number of factors including a lack of outdoor play, parents’ anxieties about their children’s safety and increasing pressure on children to participate in structured activities. Children’s reduced contact with nature has given rise to significant concerns among those who work for, with and on behalf of children.
A major part of the thinking behind the development of the Cabragh Wetlands Project was to promote continuous access and connection to the Irish natural world for children and to ensure their holistic development including health, education and knowledge of the environment. A key study, undertaken by U.C.C. under Professor Ursula Kelly for the Heritage Council, of children aged 5-12 had significant findings. The results showed that the child-nature connection is under serious threat. Certain groups of children, such as children with disabilities, face particular challenges in this regard. However, there are significant benefits in terms of health and well being to contact with the outdoors and natural environment as these environments offer opportunities for risk, adventure and challenge.
The research found that, all things being equal, children prefer to be outside rather than inside. They relish the freedom of exploring and playing in an unstructured manner. Factors such as location, friends and weather influence the appeal of the outdoor environment. In schools, the buildings are seen as the primary learning source and while it is clear that schools are using creative ways to bring nature into the classroom, it is less evident that schools are utilizing outdoor spaces more broadly for children’s education.
The Heritage Council itself has recently had to curtail access to the Heritage in Schools Scheme due to budgetary constraints. Another aspect was the schools’ emphasis on maintaining outdoor spaces predominantly for appearance as in flower beds, lawns and school garden or for sporting activities. The risk averse culture of schools may prohibit running, climbing trees or engaging in other risky activities in the outdoor environment.
Cabragh Wetlands Summer Camp, Detective in the Wild, a staple of summer activity for many, many years is in every essence the direct opposite of the above. The reeds have grown so tall this year that the sense of walking in our own Amazonian forest is everywhere. Beautifully coloured dragonflies and damselflies have emerged from the water in abundance while for the first year in many, the butterflies are plentiful and on the wing from early morning. It is not only the Lepidoptera that are plentiful-right across the wetland, the colour is stunning and the pinks and purples not usually seen until mid August are blooming everywhere. Swifts continue to glide overhead while swallows kiss the water and gorge on the millions of insects in flight.
One again this year, the barn owl has bred successfully and although he will not fly while we are in Cabragh, we will examine in detail the amazing life of this special bird. Apart from direct sensual experience of nature, Cabragh Wetlands Centre presents the opportunity to slow down nature and examine up close and personal the vital area of ecology and the interdependence of each and every creature in creation and to examine the chains on which life is founded and whose every link it is so vital to preserve. Of course , all this is presented in a fun playlike manner with the children hopefully arriving at the conclusion that nothing works if it does not work together, the key message carved in stone on our cosmic walk.
There are many parents who themselves have experienced Detective in the Wild as children and realize its value for the next generation. For many others, it may be that like the gift of reading, a curiosity about the world of nature may be one of the most valuable gifts you will bestow upon them. A limited number of places are still available on this camp that runs from July 16th -20th. You may contact us at 0504 43879,0504 23831 or 087 7567273.
This week, on July 15th, sees Cabragh Wetlands host our annual sponsored cycle to enable us to continue our work. In thanking all who organized and all the participants, be assured that you are playing a vital part in the ongoing work of Cabragh Wetlands.