My enduring love of and fascination for the natural world began at the age of five. My mother, a keen naturalist herself, took me on regular visits to Wandsworth common.
Net in hand, we fished for tadpoles and sticklebacks and studied wild flowers and the rich variety of wildlife found there. I remember seeing my first red admiral butterfly perched on a gorse bush, marvelling at its gorgeous colours and in the garden, caught white butterflies (pictured), very numerous in those days, housing them temporarily in jam jars to admire and smell their lemon-verbena, chocolatey scents.
I firmly believe that the earlier children learn and interact with nature the more they will appreciate how the environment works and most importantly, how we fit into and care for it.
For some years I taught children at the beautifully equipped Wandsworth common nature study centre which sadly closed a few years ago through withdrawal of funding. It was a wonderful resource, now denied London children.
I now take schools and adults on local commons and the London Wetland Centre and know how much they gain from those outings. Sometimes I'm approached in the street by teenagers and young adults who fondly remember "that lovely day we enjoyed studying wildlife".
Most schools no longer use a 'nature table' in the classrooms, a regular feature in my school days.
Many youngsters spend hours on laptops instead of being outside in the fresh air. TV programmes such as the brilliant David Attenborough series go some way to compensate but there is no substitute for real 'hands on experience' with hand lens, net, binoculars and field guides out in the open.