COVID-19, with its subsequent lockdowns, schools shutting and parents working from home has resulted in many families exercising outdoors, walking along the many footpaths just a short distance from home. Many of these paths are poorly signposted and lack of knowledge of the country code is resulting in potential conflict with landowners as ramblers deviate from the stated route. During the winter months it is clearly shown that, whilst the majority use the designated footpaths, the muddy conditions underfoot have resulted in a widening (many, metres beyond the normal width) of these tracks as walkers endeavour to avoid slips and falls. Winter crops show damage along these expanded margins.
This pandemic has however presented this challenge, of increasing pedestrian traffic into the countryside, with an opportunity to engage with the public. The importance of conservation and biodiversity of species and ecosystems is more critical than ever and this might be the perfect opportunity to educate both children and adults in the importance that nature plays for our survival, both now and in the future.
Children need to experience nature first-hand to become the champions of sustainability in their adult years. If they can become absorbed in nature’s role in our own existence; from the crops we eat, the importance of pollination, uptake of carbon dioxide by photosynthesis and the storage of carbon to mitigate increasing global temperature and its effects on climate change, then parents will seek to enhance their childrens interest by further studies and activities.
We need to capitalise on families exercising outdoors together more, to increase their engagement with the countryside. This, in turn, will stimulate awareness of their surroundings and so help reduce damage to vegetation and crops through their appreciation of the natural world only before seen in books and on their computer screens.