Ignorance came before chickens or eggs

19th July 1996 at 01:00
Linda Blackburne on the children who know more about the rainforest than the countryside on their doorsteps.

A fifth of seven to ten-year-olds do not understand that bacon comes from pigs and eggs from hens. And many know more about global warming and the renewal of the rainforest than they do about the British countryside and how their food is produced.

These are typical of the issues which are worrying the eight-month-old Countryside Movement, which launched its statement on rural education this week.

"The Countryside Movement has long been concerned by the alarming levels of ignorance about rural life, particularly among the young," said Sir David Steel, the executive chairman of the movement.

"Research undertaken at the time of our launch last November indicated that many children have very limited understanding of farming or the countryside in general."

The statement says that the decline in employment in farming and forestry, which uses 70 per cent of the UK's land, has reduced the opportunity for people to have first-hand experience of land management.

The organisation, which represents the interests of the countryside and its population, is also concerned that the Government's Rural White Paper says very little about the need to educate young people on rural issues and on the primary industries.

It believes that rural education should be part of environmental education, and that countryside studies can be incorporated through many of the attainment targets in the national curriculum. It wants an external panel on environmental education with representatives from the farming and forestry industries.

The Government is considering setting up a panel following last month's publication of The World in our Hands, a report by Jennifer Jones, environment manager for Shell UK, commissioned by Environment Secretary John Gummer.

The Countryside Movement would like every child to have the opportunity to visit a farm or forest, ideally once a year, but at least once in his or her primary-school life.It wants this target to be adopted by the Government and included in its Rural White Paper annual report.

It believes that schools should be encouraged to use rural teachers' centres bringing together farming, forestry and countryside resources.

There are currently seven farming resource centres in England operated by the Food and Farming Information Service and seven forestry centres operated by the Forest Education Initiative.

A cartoon from the Countryside Movement's charter depicts a little girl and her mother taking a photograph of a pig. "I know it's a piggy, mummy, but what's it for?" says the girl.

The charter says: "The persuasive influence of urban thinking is to be found today in the heart of the countryside itself, carried by many whose views were formed in the town but who have chosen to move into the countryside . . . They take issue with many things, including the movement of live animals, hunting, livestock husbandry, shooting, national hunt racing and even fishing.

"Their vision is apparently a sanitised countryside, devoid of life as well as death - a theme park for which the urban dweller takes no responsibility, financial or otherwise, but through which he expects to wander freely at the weekend."

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