By Daphne Solecki
When I was in my middle fifties I got hooked on bird watching and it changed my life.
Most of my growing up years were in a big city and as an adult I enjoyed gardening and going for walks in the countryside. However, I had never spent much time out in nature. Now, in pursuit of my new hobby, I discovered the wonderful natural areas in and around Vancouver. I found my greatest pleasure and relaxation just wandering about looking for and learning about birds.
Once I started learning about birds I learned about habitat, then about threats to habitat and before I knew it I was a conservationist. I joined the Vancouver Natural History Society and became an active member. At 60, when I retired from work, I became President of the society and went on to become President of the provincial organization.
Then what? I realised that the wonderful BC naturalist mentors, who had shared with me their knowledge garnered over a lifetime, were aging and were not being replaced. When most of these older naturalists had grown up, nature was on the doorstep. You stepped outside and there it was. If not that, there were school field trips, Guide and Scout camps. For the modern child, almost all of that has disappeared. Seventy percent of children now grow up in cities where many do not even have access to a garden, let alone freedom to explore green places around them.
A small group of like-minded naturalists banded together and together we created a provincial organization, the Young Naturalists’ Club of British Columbia for children aged 5 – 14 years, which was launched in 2000. The stated purpose of the YNC is ”to encourage and assist young people to develop a love of nature and a feeling of respect and responsibility for the unique ecosystems, flora and fauna of British Columbia”, but we wanted to do this through really enjoyable activities.
Volunteer leaders provide the most important component: Explorer Days where children and parents personally discover nearby nature at first hand. This vital outdoor component is supplemented by
(1) The Action Awards Program whereby children are encouraged to undertake individual nature study and stewardship projects and participate in beach clean-ups, pitch-in week, recycling campaigns.
(2) NatureWILD, the only quarterly nature magazine for children that focuses on BC. Here is where we can provide information on trees, plants, wildlife of every variety.
(3) Partnerships with schools and other groups who share our aims.
We do our utmost to capture a child’s thirst for knowledge. To quote from a Vancouver Sun editorial “Children taught to revere nature may not grow up to become habitat biologists. But they will grow up to become conscientious citizens and demanding voters.”
Last year, we celebrated our 10th anniversary. Currently there are over thirty family-based YNCs located in every region of the province. We estimate that, since we began, about 10,000 children have participated in YNC.
What have I got out of YNC? I’ve had the fun and challenge of creating something new. I’ve travelled all over BC, south of Prince Rupert anyway. I have met and learned from an incredible number of interesting, gifted, dedicated people. I have worked with wonderful colleagues. There’s never been a dull moment since the YNC ball started rolling.
YNC is now a registered charitable not-for-profit society. I will step down as President next year (though continuing to edit NatureWILD). The YNC is maturing into an organization with enthusiastic young staff who can carry on the vision into the future and YNC will no longer be dependent upon the efforts of any one individual.
The YNC is a wonderful volunteer opportunity for retirees. Whether by taking your grandchildren on Explorer Days or by assisting YNC leaders, it is your chance to be outdoors, participating in forming a new generation of environmentally aware young citizens. Their interest and knowledge will be ever more vital in the years to come.