Vermin, real and unreal (e.g. Golden Eagle, Wild Cat, Tawny Owl), Handling the Ferret, Snaring, Skinning an animal for mounting … it isn’t just the sexist title of this 1922 book by H. Mortimer Batten that seems to be from another era. The book however captures the spirit of childhood almost 90 years ago, when children would spend days on their own exploring the countryside, building shelters and catching their own food.
Reading this book I was immediately struck by the resonance with Richard Louv’s award-winning book: Last child in the woods (Latest Edition 2010). I mentioned in a previous post Louv’s ground-breaking articulation of something that all in society, particularly parents, were aware of but perhaps unable to define: a nature-deficit in our youngest generation.
As Richard Louv explains:
“Within the space of a few decades, the way children understand and experience nature has changed radically. The polarity of the relationship has reversed. Today, kids are aware of the global threats to the environment—but their physical contact, their intimacy with nature, is fading. That’s exactly the opposite of how it was when I was a child.”
Louv’s book led to the creation of a movement Leave no child indoors. He presented a Testimony in front the House of Representatives, calling for action and suggesting collaboration between Government agencies and organisations tackling obesity, promoting experiential learning, and building links between communities and the land. This clarion call was well received and led to action across the USA (e.g. Outdoor Bill of Rights) and around the world.
Here are some delightful quotes from H. Mortimer Batten’s 1922 book:
“The delights of possessing a home away from home – that is a permanent shelter house out in some chosen spot, where you can eat, sleep, and have your being, will be easily imagined by any youth who has ever tried camping.”
Making a summer house or permanent home in the woods.
“Obtain a strip of good chrome leather …. and next cut a piece of ashwood, and with your knife and finishing file, shape it … Next, rub it over with a red hot iron til the surface is blackened, then burnish it by rubbing energetically with a soft duster.”
Making a Dog Slip.
“Now when one has the whole run of the countryside, the act of spending money on a walking stick is about equivalent to carting coals to Newcastle or Wigan … I never go into the woods without keeping a weather eye open for a good stick. … Do not forget always when cutting a stick to smear earth over the stump you leave behind so that it is not too visible, and also, when you have trimmed the stick up, pick up all the litter and push it into a rabbit hole.”
Make your own walking stick.
As we move towards a “Big Society” in Britain, we have an opportunity to be creative in how we help engage young people with the outdoors. We must think hard about how we can link Government agencies together, and in turn link them with local Government and non-governmental organisations. We should encourage the Environment (Defra) and Education (Dfes) departments to collaborate. We should aim to tackle obesity, improve other health and wellbeing needs, connect local communities to their local countryside (relevance to the public forest estate sale!) and urban green spaces, while ensuring a greater and more meaningful environmental consciousness in the young. Afterall, the polar bear and Amazon forest may grab the headlines, but only a minority of children have a meaningful connection with our fabulous countryside. Let’s create an Outdoor Bill of Rights for British children.
H. Mortimer Batten (1922). Woodlore for young sportsmen. Heath Cranton Limited, London. 286pp.
- Life habits of British wild animals
- The game birds of Great Britain
- Vermin, real and unreal
- The destruction of vermin
- Minor hints for the gunner
- Angling and habits of fresh water fish
- Box traps for rabbits
- Mole catching
- Make your own walking stick
- Skinning and preserving skins
- Making leather goods
- A permanent home in the woods
- Making a toboggan
- Taking care of your puppy