Chris Packham Interview: Are we losing our connection with creepy crawlies?

This summer, Chris Packham helped Intu shopping centres launch their ‘Big Bugs on tour’ initiative, which aims to bring more than 30 million shoppers back to nature. Shocking research by Intu revealed that children are better at identifying Pokémon characters than British wildlife, sparking the idea to unleash 12 super-sized, indigenous bugs on intu shopping centres nationwide.

Chris Packham interacts with a 7ft long lifelike model of a Swallowtail Caterpillar and a Hornet at the launch of Big Bugs on Tour at intu Lakeside

Photo credit: Matt Alexander/intu

Now, before you start envisaging live critters worthy of horror movies (anyone says ‘super-sized bug’ and immediately picture Jeff Goldblum turning into a fly…), I can assure you these enormous insects are family-friendly models — and are pretty cool to look at. (NB: I’m not saying Goldblum’s fly isn’t cool to look at. It’s just these creepy crawlies are less… creepy).

Having opened at intu Lakeside in July, before moving to 12 further locations over the next year, the displays aim to help fill in the blanks when it comes to our nation’s knowledge of bugs.

I was shocked to learn that one in six children (16%) have not seen a single bug for six months, while 25% have not seen a caterpillar in over a year.

Perhaps even more surprisingly though, especially given the recent focus on the importance of bees as their numbers have declined; is that the study revealed that 21% of children were unable to correctly identify a bee while 10% did not know honey came from bees!

Unfortunately, adults did not fare much better in the study, with one in four unable to tell the difference between a bee and a wasp and an equal 25% unable to correctly identify a grasshopper!


Q&A with Chris Packham

“More needs to be done to reconnect people with nature and Big Bugs on tour is a fantastic initative to wake people up to the importance of nature in our lives.” Chris Packham explained in our recent interview.

A real life Azure damselfly, one of the big bug species that will be going on tour

I used the opportunity to take a look back into his own childhood, and the bugs that he encountered — and why they’ve made this an issue close to his heart.

Kate on Conservation: Why is the Big Bugs on tour campaign important? What are you hoping it will inspire parents and children to do?

Chris Packham: Hats off to intu, because they are shining the light on indigenous bugs and encouraging kids to connect with nature and explore the wildlife in their garden. I love Big Bugs on tour because it’s not only impressive with the size and accuracy of the bugs, but also a very imaginative way to engage with customers about wildlife and also reaching an audience that we wouldn’t necessarily speak to on Spring Watch.

I also like how they are working with schools to get them in centres and face-to-face with all the bugs, and learn to appreciate not just the pretty ones like butterflies and ladybirds, but the crawly ones which are equally important in our ecosystem.

K: Do you have any memories of encountering bugs as a child?

C: The front gate of my parents’ house had a bush which was the home to lots of different coloured ladybirds, which I would catch by standing on the wall. 

K: Why is it good for children to explore the bug life in their garden?

C: It’s really important for kids to explore the bug life in their garden because it’s been proven that being connected to nature makes you happier. New research from intu shopping centres found that 67% of people said that being connected to nature makes you happier, but one in six kids have not seen a bug in six months.

K: What might they find looking in the garden for insects?

C: Lots of exciting things! For kids, the first safari they do is in their garden, from my opinion. Kids can find everything from ladybirds, bees, beetles such as the stag beetle, all of which are on display at intu’s Big bugs on tour.

K: What is your favourite bug? And why?

C: Hornet – they are fantastic insect predators. They are misunderstood though, it’s easy to live alongside them. 

Big Bugs on tour; and when to catch them!

Intu’s campaign to reconnect kids and adults to nature comes as reports show children are now better at identifying Pokemon characters than British wildlife, despite a £10 million pledge from the Government to encourage children to get closer to nature.

big bugs on tour intu shopping centres

Over 35 million people shop at intu centres every year, so Roger Binks, customer experience director for intu, hopes that bringing them face-to-face with these giant British bugs “can make a real impact in how they interact and reconnect with nature, and ensure they are happier than when they arrived.”

One of the most encouraging conclusions from the study showed that 78% of parents want their children to be more connected to nature (86% thought their children spent too much time looking at screens), with nearly half (49%) saying they are worried about the decline in insects, but didn’t know how to help.

Bee hotels

I’d suggest creating a bee or bug hotel (find out how here), or planting flowering, bee-friendly plants in the garden would be a good start (as well as avoiding using any pesticides and bug killing chemicals!).

Hopefully this can help with the very sad news that over a third of adults say they see far fewer bugs in their gardens now than five years ago.

The 12 British bugs being exhibited across Intu shopping centres nationwide between now and September 2019 are:

  1. Azure damselfly
  2. Black ant
  3. Honeybee
  4. Hornet
  5. Ladybird
  6. Meadow grasshopper
  7. Swallowtail butterfly
  8. Swallowtail caterpillar
  9. Nut weevil
  10. Rose chafer beetle
  11. Stag beetle
  12. Greater water boatman

For more information go to: www.intu.co.uk/BigBugshttp://www.intu.co.uk/BigBugs.

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Making an impact with bee hotels

June is a rather special month for Discovery employees, as the entire, global team simultaneously takes part in a day of giving back to the community, known as Impact Day.

This year, the volunteer project that I chose to participate in involved making bee hotels with a local school, Granton Primary.

Impact Day employeesI didn’t really know much about bee hotels or how to make them before Impact Day, so it was surprising to me to learn just how simple it was.

Firstly, the type of bee we were making the bee hotels for, solitary bees, do not live in a hive. Instead, they nest in sandy banks, hollow stems and wood. Bee hotels replicate hollow stems and provide a safe environment for the bees to nest, where they won’t be accidentally disturbed by humans or exposed to predators.

Crafting bee hotelsWe cut the tops off of 1 litre plastic bottles, securely taping thick tape over the sharp edges (to prevent any of the schoolchildren from accidentally cutting themselves), and then began the process of rolling sheets of paper around a pencil, to keep the hollow tubes as thin as possible.

Once the tube was rolled, the end of the paper was stuck down with sellotape, to keep it from unraveling, and then cut down so that when each tube was stood up inside the bottle, they would be shorter than the bottle’s edge. Apparently this means the bees will lay their eggs inside the protection of the ‘bee hotel’, rather than in an exposed bit of paper, which a bird can still easily access with its beak. It was important to pack the tubes in tightly, so they wouldn’t move around.

13427878_628945350603346_6972904180356332766_nGranton Primary School focus heavily on eco and environment in their studies, and their pupils came armed with information about solitary bees to teach us adults, and had even made quizzes to test our knowledge!

One of the things I was surprised to learn is that solitary bees do not sting! I was definitely under the impression that all bees stung before! But then, I wasn’t previously aware that there are so many species of bee in Britain either (approximately 250!), so assumed they all had the same characteristics. Turns out, they don’t.

Pupils quizzing the teamSo why is it important to protect bees?

As pollinators, bees help to produce more than three-quarters of the world’s crops, but they are under threat due to fewer suitable nest sites and fewer wild flowers. There has also been an increase in pesticide use in the UK. Of the approximate 250 bee species in Britain, 25% are listed as endangered.

IMG_0332It feels so important to do something as simple as making (or buying) a bee hotel, and hanging it in your garden. The paper tubes will need maintaining (replacing) at the end of the summer, but again, it really is simple!

I loved learning all these bee facts at Impact Day this year, and feel like I’ve only just brushed the surface of the issues that bees are currently facing in today’s world. Fortunately, I came across some further reading on Wildlife Kate’s using Wildlife to learn blog for Michael Drayton Junior School (who I met at the UK Blog Awards in April). It just so happens that this week, she’s discussing what happens in a bee hotel, which for me, is a perfect follow up to my Impact Day with Discovery Education UK, of learning from pupils!

bee video

Watching a Discovery Education video on bee hotels.

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