RSPB Disconnect

Posted in: Comment, New Publications

I’ve been reading the RSPB’s new survey of 8 to 12 year olds and their conclusions that only 21% of them are as “connected to nature” as the RSPB thinks they need to be.  This is based on a survey of some 1100 youngsters, using a conceptual frame established by US academics:

Chen-Hsuan Cheng, J. and Monroe, M. C. (2012) Connection to Nature: children’s affective attitude toward nature. Environment and Behavior 44(1): 31–49

I got rather confused with the questions the children were asked.  I wondered why, for example, all the following terms were used across the 16 questions, and whether they all had distinct meanings:

nature,  natural environment,  natural world,  outdoors,  environment

It’s possible to make a clear distinction between “environment” and “natural environment” (think street and forest), but if there is a difference between “nature”, “natural environment”, and “natural world”, it’s not at all clear to me what it is, and I wonder why three (potentially confusing) phrases were used.  Were the differences explained to the children, I wonder, …

As a general rule, if you ask daft questions, you get the answers you deserve.  A few examples.

I enjoy touching animals and plants

As the correct RSPB answer to this is “agree” or “strongly agree”, and it is a survey about “the natural world”, this seems to be encouraging youngsters to touch wildlife, which seems completely bonkers.  I’m thinking here, not just of rats and other vermin such as squirrels, but also of swans and geese, cows, horses, … .  Madness.

Then there’s ...

People do not have the right to change the natural environment

As you have to agree with this to get a positive score, it seems to rule out all sorts of everyday activities, such as gardening (which RSPB encourages in another question).  Does it mean I should stop pruning my fruit trees?  Or maybe fruit trees are out – after all, they are hardly natural.

I could go on about this conceptual confusion, for example about this: I like to see wild animals living in a clean environment, but …

Then there’s what the survey doesn’t say.  There are no questions about exercise which is odd given how much youngsters seem to run, scoot, climb and bike about whenever they manage to escape the house.

The report says that the average score was 1.05 out of 2 (a dismal 0.97 in Wales), and that RSPB believes that a score of 1.5 is a realistic and achievable target for every child in the country.  Umm.  Of course, a positive in all this is that now that we know what the test questions are, NGOs can tweak their policies and practices towards these to ensure the 1.5 target is met.

Just keep away from all those rats.

Posted in: Comment, New Publications


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