Why David Attenborough could be last of his species

Nov 6, 2012

Chris Packham slams laws that stop children from enjoying nature the way he and Attenborough did

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NATURALISTS David Attenborough and Chris Packham have lamented the "extinction" of the young naturalist, blaming legislation for preventing children from taking part in activities, such as egg collecting, that helped them develop their interest in wildlife.

Interviewing Attenborough for the Radio Times, Packham said: "When it comes to children, the one species that is extinct in the British countryside is the young naturalist.

"I'm out there all the time and I just don't see the boy that I was and you were. That's a disaster in waiting, isn't it?"

Attenborough replied: "Yes, and part of the reason for that is easy to identify, and that is because it's no longer allowed, no longer legal, to be a collector. I openly admit that I collected birds' eggs. And I knew, I bet like you did, when the right moment was when you could take one, and the bird would lay another, so you didn't damage the population, and I learnt a lot.

"Now, I think it's in the ledger of law, if you wanted to be pedantic, if you were to pick up a feather and put it in your pocket it would probably not be legal. And not to be allowed to collect fossils..."

Packham, who has introduced millions of children to nature in a TV career that included The Really Wild Show and, more recently, Springwatch said: "I wouldn't reprimand a young boy that I found climbing to a nest these days. I think I'd give him a bunk up into the tree."

Speaking to the Today programme this morning, Packham rowed back on his apparent endorsement of egg theft. "I don't want to advocate egg collecting," he said. "Don't collect eggs, but get up there and look at them."

However, he dismissed the power of wildlife programmes - many of which have been presented by him and Attenborough - to give children a love of nature, saying: "I'd rather spend 10 minutes with a wood mouse in my hand then watching a tiger on TV."

He reiterated his concern that there are no young people exploring the countryside because of health and safety concerns. "We've turned the countryside into a dark and dangerous place for our children. It's either dirty or they're falling from trees... As a consequence they don't get to meet this stuff first-hand by picking up fossils, catching grass snakes and going birding.

"I fear the future David Attenboroughs will be learning their trade in a library."

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Woodlouse not wood mouse, surely?