It is true that many young people look at screens instead of being in nature, but others use technology to form a global community of conservationists.
Six years ago, I sadly wrote a rather grim report for the National Trust called Natural Childhood. I highlighted the barriers that stood in the way of engaging young people with nature: mainly the dangers of traffic, parents' fears of the “danger of strangers” and the growing aversion to exposing children to any form of risk. I came to the conclusion that we were facing the real danger of a “lost generation”, which could never commit to nature.
Young people were, and still are, they tell us, disconnected from nature, looking at screens when they should be free. But what I had not predicted back then is that it is these screens that now allow our children to join forces to save the natural world. The rise of new technologies, especially social media, has allowed a new generation to connect with those who share their interests in a way that I never would have thought possible when I wrote Natural Childhood. As a young ornithologist recently told me: "I thought I was the only birder in my school, but on Facebook I found half a dozen more in my local area."
Another budding young naturalist, Abbie Barnes (who climbed Kilimanjaro in the same week she got her A-level results), introduced me to a young woman who works for conservation in Kenya. When I asked how long they had known each other, Abbie laughed and said, "We have never met, but we have connected on social media for the last two years."
This enthusiasm can be seen across the country and has spawned some high-profile initiatives partly driven by younger activists, many of them involved in Chris Packham's Manifesto for Wildlife and the People's Walk for Wildlife. which took place in London in September 2018. There is no doubt that this generation will make a real difference by saying, “They are smart, knowledgeable and very determined. Unleashing the brutal honesty and fabulous ideology of youth is the best chance we have. "
I thought I was the only birder in my school, but on Facebook I found half a dozen people in my area.
So how did this move evolve so suddenly and efficiently since my gloomy report? Much of the momentum behind it began at the annual British Birdwatching Fair, or Birdfair, held in August in Rutland, where people from around the world gather in England's smallest county to share their mutual passion for the birds.
Until recently, one group was conspicuous by its absence: young people between the ages of 16 and 30. Then, thanks to some determined and forward-thinking people, this started to change. Today, dozens of young people visit Birdfair each year, holding discussions, swapping stories and building careers in conservation, environment and media.
Many are members of the A Focus on Nature (AFoN) organization, whose mission is to “connect, support and inspire young people across the UK with an interest in nature and conservation, and provide a voice for the youth conservation movement. ”.
The idea for AFoN actually started at Birdfair, in 2012, the same year I published my report. When the idea came up for a network to connect young people with more experienced mentors, in areas like nature writing, wildlife television, and conservation. However, the best guidance often came from the members themselves, who began to develop a peer-to-peer network, offering practical advice and help.
In 2015, AFoN organized a conference in Cambridge, which led to the publication of the report A Vision for Nature. It contained a set of well thought out, clear and viable proposals to save our natural heritage, written by the generation that will have to fix the disaster we made.
Unsurprisingly, despite Sir David Attenborough's endorsement, the report was largely ignored by politicians and the media. However, since then, AFoN committee members have twice been invited to Downing Street to meet with environmental advisers and parliamentarians.
AFoN is not the only youth organization to emerge in recent years: others include the Bristol Nature Network and the now-disbanded Next Generation Birders, which in 2017 inspired the Telegraph headline "The Rise of the Maverick Birdwatcher."
In Spain there are interesting examples of the use of social networks to spread the environmental message. Particularly noteworthy is the Virtual Biodiversity platform, through which any citizen can participate by sending photographs or videos, which will later be cataloged by a group of experts and can be consultedonline. Currently, account with more than a million cataloged and georeferenced images.
Then there's Mya-Rose Craig aka Birdgirl, who at 16 has already made a real impact by encouraging ethnic minority youth to engage with the natural world.
Create hashtags and trends (and participate)
Social networks allow you to follow and claim influential public figures, companies or institutions
Twitter It is one of the most dynamic and influential social networks. To make the environment more present, you can create Hashtags, words preceded by the # sign so that the rest of "tweeters" follow them, and participate in them. Hashtags such as #environment, #recycling and #contamination or others to promote initiatives such as Earth Hour (#horadelplaneta or #earthour) can be used. If you attract enough people, you can become one of the "Trends" or "Trending Topics", the topics that are displayed on the home page of all “tweeters”. Its snowball effect can arouse the interest of many more people.
Comment on idea banks
In the "Idea banks" ideas to improve products and services are posted and shared. The pioneer, Global: ideas: bank gave way to very varied ones, some of them related to the environment and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), such as the American Socialyell, where users give their opinion and score companies on this matter. In Spain, the EROSKI Foundation created the Consumer Spotlight, where its users also proposed environmental ideas.
How to create your own environmental social network
A social network of its own offers greater control and adapts to specific needs. There are several web pages that allow it, such as Ning or Socialgo, without forgetting the most veteran discussion forum systems and email lists, such as Google Groups or wikis, with Wikispaces to collectively and easily exchange content.
Lucy McRobert, who left AFoN's creative director in 2016, is now a communications manager for the Wildlife Trusts. Organized and helped run the 30 Days Wild campaign.
When I look at this generation and see their commitment, passion, hard work, and inspiring actions, I am inclined to think that they could succeed.
By Stephen Moss, naturalist and author, lives in Somerset. His latest book is The Wren: A Biography (Square Peg). He is involved with AFoN as a mentor
Original article (in English)