Extinction of Experience

April was a quiet month for me as my academic commitments stole the lion’s share. But I can’t believe we are already at the end of May! May is probably my favourite month…. here in North Yorkshire, the ramsons and bluebells are in full swing and the beech buds burst to dapple them in shade and provide such a vibrant, fresh green for a week or so. And then there are mayflies of course but that’s another story.

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I get an even stronger urge to be outside as much as possible, to immerse myself in the busy comings and goings of late spring. Luckily for me, the Conservation Officer role of my Wild Trout Trust duties (and occasionally my academic research) allows me to do so.

A month or so earlier, a paper popped up on my academic radar on ‘Extinction of experience: the loss of human-nature interactions’. It struck an immediate chord, having felt stifled and starved of those very interactions for the 10 years I worked in London. Fewer and fewer people, especially children, have daily contact with nature. This ongoing alienation prompted Robert Pyle to coin the phrase ‘extinction of experience’ some 20 years ago. The authors of the current paper report that some consequences of the loss of interaction with nature include deteriorating public health and well-being, a reduced emotional affinity toward nature, and a decline in pro-environmental attitudes and behaviours, which implies a cycle of apathy toward nature. They recommend that the policy makers of today need to focus more attention and effort on planning how best to reduce the extinction of experience and reconnect people with nature. The benefits seem obvious: achieving a healthier society and overcoming a wide range of environmental issues.

I am a proud father of a three year old daughter (the ‘Greyling’ - a definite PB), and such things play on my mind. I want her to have the opportunity to experience nature as I did. And I get an enormous kick from her curiosity toward nature. ‘Hornathorn’ (hawthorn) trees smell funny apparently. Sung to the tune of Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer (about our bird feeder frequenting pheasant) is ‘Ferdy the gaudy birdie, has a very splendid tail’. And whenever I pick her up from nursery with a rod wedged next to her car seat there is the inevitable question, ‘Yuk, do trout really eat flies like that?’    

Strikes me, although I am biased, that fishing is a great way to counter the extinction of experience. There’s the simple, out-of-the-house (off the sofa / video game) aspect, a curiosity angle of not knowing quite what might emerge from under the water, welfare and respect for other creatures stemming from catch and release, as well as all the other wildlife that we hear and see on the bank or which we can turn to when we blank! We will all have some experience that springs immediately to mind. This year especially, The Angling Trust have been trying to help young people create opportunities via their scheme Get Hooked On Fishing. My daughter has been kayak fishing with me several times on holiday and loves it. She’s chief shark spotter on the prow!

Riverfly monitoring is another great scheme to engage and mentor young people and instil a sense of environmental stewardship, but speaking from personal experience (and I would dearly love to be wrong) I haven’t seen anyone below the age of twenty doing it. I have spent many an hour with the Greyling, poring over a plastic tray, surreptitiously using her keener eyesight to best effect. So, are we missing a trick? There seems to be a distinct need to maintain the momentum gathered from all the fantastic ‘trout/troot in the classroom’ schemes around the British Isles now that I blogged about back in January, and forge links to riverfly groups and youth angling opportunities. Maybe that way, and with the Environment Agency considering a free licence for juniors under the age of sixteen, we will finally see a decline in the number of juniors taking up fishing and perhaps the slowing of another extinction event…..