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Alex Douglas-Kane shares her experiences and understanding of Discover Nature Awareness

Monday, 16 April 2012

Child's play not easy for modern parents, say experts By Judith Burns Education reporter, BBC News

Mother and child playing A survey suggests many parents have lost the art of playing with their children

UK parents are suffering a crisis of confidence when it comes to playing with their children, suggests a survey.
Almost half of 2,000 parents questioned said they would welcome expert help on how to play.
Some 13% felt anxious about play, while 17% admitted buying toys and video games for their children to take the pressure off themselves, it revealed.
Play campaigner Adrian Voce called on the government to develop a national play strategy.
Researchers for the drinks brand Ribena questioned 2,000 parents of children aged from three to 15 across the UK for its Ribena Plus Play Report.
The figures showed that 59% of fathers and 42% of mothers were so busy that they had fewer than five hours a week to play with their children.
'Lose the ironing'

National Trust play musts

Climb a tree
Roll down a really big hill
Camp out in the wild
Build a den
Skim a stone
Run around in the rain
Fly a kite
Catch a fish with a net
Eat an apple straight from a tree
Play conkers
Throw some snow
Hunt for treasure on the beach
Make a mud pie
Dam a stream
Go sledging
Bury someone in the sand
Set up a snail race
Balance on a fallen tree
Swing on a rope swing
Make a mud slide
Eat blackberries growing in the wild
Take a look inside a tree
Visit an island
Feel like you're flying in the wind
Make a grass trumpet
Hunt for fossils and bones
Watch the sun wake up
Climb a huge hill
Get behind a waterfall
Feed a bird from your hand
Hunt for bugs
Find some frogspawn
Catch a butterfly in a net
Track wild animals
Discover what's in a pond
Call an owl
Check out animals in a rock pool
Bring up a butterfly
Catch a crab
Go on a nature walk at night
Plant it, grow it, eat it
Go wild swimming
Go rafting
Light a fire without matches
Find your way with map and compass
Try bouldering
Cook on a campfire
Try abseiling
Find a geocache
Canoe down a river

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Nature deficit disorder 'damaging Britain's children' By Richard Black Environment correspondent, BBC News

"Nature lesson" for children Children "learn by doing" in the natural environment, says the National Trust
UK children are losing contact with nature at a "dramatic" rate, and their health and education are suffering, a National Trust report says. Traffic, the lure of video screens and parental anxieties are conspiring to keep children indoors, it says. Evidence suggests the problem is worse in the UK than other parts of Europe, and may help explain poor UK rankings in childhood satisfaction surveys. The trust is launching a consultation on tackling "nature deficit disorder".

"This is about changing the way children grow up and see the world," said Stephen Moss, the author, naturalist and former BBC Springwatch producer who wrote the Natural Childhood report for the National Trust. "The natural world doesn't come with an instruction leaflet, so it teaches you to use your creative imagination."When you build a den with your mates when you're nine years old, you learn teamwork - you disagree with each other, you have arguments, you resolve them, you work together again - it's like a team-building course, only you did it when you were nine."

The trust argues, as have other bodies in previous years, that the growing dissociation of children from the natural world and internment in the "cotton wool culture" of indoor parental guidance impairs their capacity to learn through experience.
It cites evidence showing that:
  • children learn more and behave better when lessons are conducted outdoors
  • symptoms of children diagnosed with ADHD improve when they are exposed to nature
  • children say their happiness depends more on having things to do outdoors more than owning technology.
Yet British parents feel more pressure to provide gadgets for their children than in other European countries.
Anger over traffic.

The phrase nature deficit disorder was coined in 2005 by author Richard Louv, who argued that the human cost of "alienation from nature" was measured in "diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses". In the UK as in many other countries, rates of obesity, self-harm and mental health disorders diagnosed in children have climbed significantly since the 1970s.
But nature deficit disorder is not generally regarded as a medical condition. "There's undoubtedly a phenomenon that's not good for health, which is about not giving access to outdoors or green space, safe risk-taking and so on," said David Pencheon, a medical doctor who now heads the National Health Service's sustainable development unit. "But I wouldn't say we've identified a medical condition.
"In fact we don't want to 'medicalise' it, we should see it as part of everyday life - if you medicalise it, people say 'you'd better go to your doctor and take a pill'." But despite growing recognition of nature deficit disorder, policies aiming to tackle it appear thin on the ground.

Mr Moss cites statistics showing that the area where children are allowed to range unsupervised around their homes has shrunk by 90% since the 1970s. Whereas some reasons behind the parental "cotton wool culture" are not based in logic - most sexual molestation occurs in the home, for example, not in parks - the one "genuine massive danger" is traffic. "I think the first step for any child is playing outdoors in the street; and in the 40 years since I grew up, traffic has increased hugely, and that's the main reason why none of us let our kids out on their own," Mr Moss told BBC News.

"The only solution would be to have pedestrian priority on every residential street in Britain; when you are driving along the street, if there are children playing, they have priority." The report advocates having teachers take children for lessons outdoors when possible, with urban schools using parks. It also says that authorities who cite "health and safety" as a reason for stopping children playing conkers or climbing trees should be aware that successive Health and Safety Executive heads have advocated a measure of risk-taking in children's lives.

Health warning. The changes in childhood in previous decades are now filtering through into adulthood, where levels of obesity are also rising.

Brain jigsaw puzzle Is nature part of the puzzle of a healthy mind?
Dr Pencheon observed that although doctors are beginning to prescribe exercise instead of drugs where it is indicated, much more could be done from a policy perspective. "One of the problems here is that the NHS is not incentivised financially to do public health," he said. "The healthcare system is run on a rescue basis - people come to us when they're ill, we patch them up and try to get them going again - that's not the culture of a system designed to keep people healthy." The National Trust is now beginning a two-month consultation aimed at gathering views and examples of good and bad practice from the public and specialists.

These will eventually be turned into a set of policy recommendations. "As a nation, we need to do everything we can to make it easy and safe for our children to get outdoors," said National Trust director-general Fiona Reynolds. "We want to move the debate on and encourage people and organisations to think about how we take practical steps to reconnect children with the natural world and inspire them to get outdoors."

Woodpeckers’ Cranial Bone Structures Help the Bird Avoid Injury and May Help Development of Human Headgear By Anna Sanders

Woodpeckers, like this great spotted female above, avoid head injury during pecking because of their cranial microstructures, a new study says. (Photo: David Smith/CC-by-2.0)

Tap, tap, tap. Woodpeckers will repeatedly drum their beaks into dead or decaying tree trunks while building nests or searching for food and, to the casual observer, this incessant pecking might seem a little reckless. But evolution has afforded woodpeckers some safeguards. While scientists have predicted the birds avoid injury through large brain cases, strong muscles, and special feathers covering their nostrils to protect them from flying debris, researchers in China have found that the woodpecker’s macro/micro morphology has also plays a role in resisting head impact injury. The research could mean more effective protective gear for humans exposed at risk for head injury.

Through a comparative study of the mechanical properties, microstructure, and composition of the cranial bone and beak of great spotted woodpeckers, scientists found that the bird’s special hyoid bone, unequal beak, and uneven spongy bone help avoid head trauma.

“These distinctive mechanical properties, microstructure and composition of woodpecker's cranial bone and beak provide an excellent resistance to head impact injury at a high speed and deceleration,” explains study co-author Lizhen Wang. The great spotted woodpecker, Wang says, is able to avoid head injury pecking at a high frequency, velocities of 6-7 m/s, and an acceleration of 1000 times that of gravity. In comparison, humans are most likely to avoid injury at accelerations below 18 times that of gravity, though U.S. Air Force officer John Paul Stapp survived an acceleration of 46.2 g.

Researchers compared the skulls of the great spotted woodpecker (A) and lark (B) to determine how woodpeckers resist head injury. (© SCIENCE CHINA Press)

Wang and fellow researchers compared the great spotted woodpecker’s bone structure to that of the lark. They found that the woodpecker’s cranial bone is more equipped to resist impact injury because of its microstructure. Compared to the lark, the woodpecker has a more plate-like trabecular bone, a greater number of thicker and more closely spaced trabeculae, and higher proportion of bone mineral.
The study is the result of three years of research by Fan Yubo and colleagues, including Wang, at the Key Laboratory for Biomechanics and Mechanobiology of the Ministry of Education, Beihang University’s School of Biological Science and Medical Engineering, and Wuhan University of Technology’s School of Materials Science and Engineering. Their findings were released April 10 and were published last November in SCIENCE CHINA Life Sciences. While other research on woodpeckers has analyzed the bird qualitatively, the new work is more quantitative, says Wang.

“Our work has studied the kinematics, load transmission, pecking force, micro-structure of cranial bone, beak quantitatively,” explains Wang.
Their research may also “inspire the design and optimization of protective headgear for humans,” concludes the study’s authors.

“Head injuries remain as an increasingly common cause of death and severe disabilities around the world,” says Wang. “Yet, the woodpecker has no head injury under the condition of 1000g.”