Empowering the public to help assess the health of the natural world has become essential because of society’s widening disconnect from the land, according to Chris Packham.
The TV naturalist said citizen science projects are “increasingly important” as too many people have lost sight of the direct correlation between the health of wildlife and of humans.
Mr Packham will give a talk at Harrogate’s Royal Hall in the autumn, in conjunction with PR agency Cause UK, and said he wants more families to get involved in projects as such Wild Watch, a major wildlife survey that is underway in the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
“We now live with the idea that nature is something else – it’s like art, it’s like music - it’s something which we can pick up if we fancy it and other than that it just carries on regardless,” the BBC presenter said.
“But we’ve forgotten that we’re implicitly entwined with it, and our health as an individual and as a species, is directly related to its health.
“That’s why we need to reconnect people with it, and young people in particular. I’m hoping families get involved in these citizen science projects.”
'Nature not just for geeks'
Mr Packham, who was recently presented with a CBE by the Prince of Wales for his services to nature conservation, said engaging with the natural world has to be made appealing to everyone.
“It’s not just about the geeky insect counters, it’s about people who go out for a weekend and take a second look at the things that they’ve been treading over or walking past, and realise that they are intrinsically fascinating, implicitly valuable and they offer a rich sense of reward if you get down on your hands and knees and have a sniff, basically.
“And that affinity means that if people love it, then people like myself can call upon them to look after it,” he said.
Mr Packham’s co-presenter on the BBC’s Springwatch Unsprung, Yorkshire-born Lindsey Chapman, is a patron of The Wild Watch in Nidderdale AONB.
She said she hoped people will make a lasting connection with nature and emerge with a greater sense of responsibility for it by participating in projects such as the wildlife survey in Nidderdale.
“It’s important to create connections between people and the natural world, the more people understand about it, the more they create memories and connections, the more they’ll want to protect it. That’s key,” Ms Chapman said.
Conservationists warn that more than half of all wildlife species is in decline across the UK.
A campaign launched earlier this year by The Wildlife Trusts highlighted the scale of wildlife habitat losses.
Over the last century, 97 per cent of the UK’s lowland meadows and 80 per cent of purple heathlands have disappeared.
Only 20 per cent of UK rivers are considered to be healthy and 13 per cent of freshwater and wetland species in Britain are threatened with extinction.
Focus on young generation
It is vital to engage a new generation with the natural world and its importance, Mr Packham said.
Nidderdale AONB has appointed 15-year-old Zach Haynes from Northallerton as youth patron of its Wild Watch project. The teenager is a BBC Wildlife Magazine Young Blogger of the Year and a recipient of the Unsprung Hero Award from BBC Springwatch.
Mr Packham said: “It’s always heartening to know that people like Zach are out there. We need more young people who are connecting with nature.”
An Evening with Chris Packham will be held at the Royal Hall in Harrogate on October 19.