Growing up on a diet of smart technology, escalators & the lure of the indoors has left children with an outdoor deficit, which is disastrous for them & for nature

Ben Fogle

Ben Fogle wrote this brilliant article and I’d like to share it with you.

Think on this. A recent news story revealed that prisoners spend more time outdoors than many children do: indeed, studies estimate that children spend as little as 30 minutes a week outside. We’re facing an epidemic in which children have lost their connection with the outdoors.

Yet experts warn that active play is essential for health and development, and that without it we risk a new physical and mental health catastrophe among a generation of millennials who have grown up on a diet of smart technology, escalators and the allure of the indoors. Where once children walked to school, played in the woods and generally got muddy, we now face the reality of an outdoor deficit.

My childhood was one of perpetual outdoor fun. Although I grew up in central London, my parents ensured plenty of outdoor activity. Daily visits to the parks and squares of London during the week, followed by weekends on a farm in West Sussex, and then holidays in rural Canada in a wooden cabin, hand built by my late grandfather on the shores of a lake. These experiences cemented my own relationship with nature and the natural world. Not a gifted academic or a sportsman, the great outdoors gave me a confidence I lacked elsewhere and opened my life to a wealth of opportunity.

I have explored some of the earth’s wildest places. From the largest rainforest on earth, the Amazon – a place so vast it’s estimated that 70% of the flora and fauna is still unidentified – to the arid, desolate, lifeless deserts of the Sahara and Arabia, and the snowy peaks of the Andes and the Himalayas. From the freezing wastelands of Antarctica to the remote islands of Tristan Da Cunha – only accessible once a year by a 10-day boat trip – and to the desolate South Georgia in the South Atlantic. From the jungles of Borneo and Papua New Guinea to the expansive savannahs of East Africa, and the vast flat planes of the Canadian prairies.

I have experienced the wettest wilderness on earth in Chile and the driest in Oman. I have been to the hottest place ever recorded in Death Valley and the coldest in Antarctica. I have been in winds of 100mph in the Western Isles of Scotland. I have spent time on the seemingly endless horizon of the ocean which brings a very different form of solitude. It’s one driven by movement, the sea never stops moving, and yet to be on the ocean is a stationary experience. The desert is a seemingly dead environment, but after a few days, you begin to notice and feel an almost invisible life here – tiny creatures below the sand that inhabit the night.

These places fill me with wonder and dread. I recall the incredible feeling of isolation and solitude when my plane departed from Antarctica; it would be another six weeks until a plane could reach the polar region. Isolation – true isolation – can be an overwhelming emotion. But panic and dread was followed by happiness and elation, bringing a new freedom.

Each form of wilderness brings with it an understanding about the planet and respect. I have learned to embrace and celebrate the outdoors. It is not a place of perpetual battles of man v wild, as so often depicted in the media, but a place in which we can not only survive but thrive.

Now as a father myself, I find myself sharing my passion for the outdoors with my own two children. Ludo and Iona are part of a new generation for whom physical and outdoor activity has often been replaced by technology. In short, you have to work that much harder to encourage both: “But why do we have to walk, daddy?”, “Why don’t we drive?”, “It’s too rainy/cold/hot to walk, daddy”, “Can I play on the iPad?” Words and sentiments every parent hears. I find myself preaching the lure of the outdoors at near fanatical levels in my desperation to maintain the link between my children and the natural world.

I am fortunate that I can share my passions. As a family, we explore our own shores. The children have walked the wild beaches of south Devon and the hills of mid Wales; they have yomped across the moors of Lancashire and explored the forests of Hampshire. For me as a parent it is intrinsically important for the children to understand their own habitat, geography, flora and fauna, but it does not end there. Last year we spent several weeks exploring Tanzania. The children met wildlife, conservationists and indigenous people. We are, of course, in a privileged position, but my passion – that borders on obsession – with the great outdoors is one I want to share with all.

The planet is already under a tremendous amount of pressure. Without a new generation to respect and value the environment, things will only get worse for both. So let’s get outside and save the world.

© Ben Fogle