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And yet so much of the narrative about the British countryside manifests itself in nimbyist squabbles over (relatively dull) “green belts”, or grim narratives about how humans are damaging the planet. It was impossible, for instance, to watch the wondrous scenes of the BBC’s Blue Planet II without concluding it’s a blues planet too. Environmental matters are, of course, of paramount importance; but if they’re not set against a background of people experiencing countryside and wildlife first-hand, they result in pious signalling rather than meaningful engagement.

How, then, to lure Britons back into the wild? Education. It should be a duty of schools to instil in younger generations the value — and values — of the great outdoors. The time has long since passed when a genuine sense of rural life could be passed down through family relatives and recollections. For many, the countryside really is an unknown world.

Michael Gove, who earned his stripes (and battle scars) as Education Secretary, is perfectly placed as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to reconnect schools with the natural world. Just as “work experience” forms a major part of secondary-school education, so should “rural experience”. We need to show young Britons that the countryside is theirs to enjoy — and respect. Let’s hope that the “Nature Friendly Schools Programme” announced last month by the Prime Minister, seemingly seized by a newly-found green fervour, is a first step in the right direction. And let’s hope that talk of risk assessments or funding constraints be set aside when there’s so much at stake.

Most simply, we must show young children how much pleasure the countryside freely affords. This past Christmas, for instance, my wife and I were trudging through the snow to watch the winter sun hang low over Crummock Water in Lakeland. As the sublime panorama opened up before us, our 18-monther, lashed like a log to my back, gave a sigh and simply said, “Happy.” Verb. sap.
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