Steve Backshall: 'Parents need to get outdoors with their kids'
Deadly 60 presenter Steve Backshall is using his infectious enthusiasm for the wonders of nature to get more families to enjoy the outdoors. He explains all to Lisa Salmon.
Although adventurer Steve Backshall has swam with great white sharks, caught a king cobra and been charged by elephants, his passion for the natural world extends much further than just the deadly.
The TV naturalist can barely contain his enthusiasm for the far less dangerous mini-beasts found in puddles and ponds, and the wonders of nature that surround us every day - and now he's on a mission to get families to share his passion.
The Deadly 60 presenter is fronting a new campaign to encourage children and parents to take part in mini-adventures outside, winning badges for small-scale outdoor fun including camping in the back garden, kissing a toad and jumping puddles.
"I'm trying to encourage families to spend more time outdoors with their kids," explains Backshall (42).
"It'd be very easy for me to say you need to take all your kids on foot on safari round the Masai Mara - but not everyone has that available to them.
"Everyone does have the possibility of going to their local park with a torch and looking for moths, or giving a bush a big whack and catching all the bugs that drop out of it.
"These are things that can be of enormous joy and are potentially available to everyone."
After all, the presenter - who showed off his moves on last year's Strictly Come Dancing - points out: "I didn't start out when I was six years old by going free-diving with great white sharks - it took me 40 years to work up to that."
Backshall is fronting the Brave Bones Club initiative to encourage kids to embark on their own adventures this summer, and is currently filming a series of videos featuring simple activities children can try, including making a tent and a wildlife expedition. The films will be available through the Brave Bones Club website during the school summer holidays.
"I have an infinite compendium of ideas that people can try with their youngsters, and my main drive is getting them to do things that are free or cheap and can be done locally, so they're available for everyone," says Steve.
Backshall, who was brought up on a smallholding in Surrey surrounded by rescue animals, wants kids to share his love of wildlife, but points out: "It doesn't have to be massive iconic mega-animals - I got the majority of my excitement when I was young from small things like mini-beasts, worms, slow worms, lizards and grass snakes, and from going to my local pond and finding water scorpions, beetles, dragonfly larvae and mayfly nymphs.
"These are things that - if you stick them under a magnifying glass - are absolute miracles of nature, and you can find them in a puddle."
Although Backshall's had his fair share of risky encounters with deadly creatures and hostile landscapes, he's not encouraging families to do anything dangerous themselves - although he says children will learn from playing outdoors and getting bumped and bruised.
"It's essential that play is safe and there's the absolute minimum of risk involved," he says.
"But I do think it's a very important part of life to learn about constant risk assessments, to look around you and figure out what's genuinely dangerous and what's not."
Backshall says there's also great joy to be found on the seafront, from beachcombing and finding "miracles that have been swept ashore by the waves", or by going through rockpools and finding crabs and anemones. And it's not just about kids getting out there and enjoying the wonders of nature alone - parents should share the experiences with them.
"We can't just expect kids to instantly have this knowledge from nowhere. I was very lucky that as a youngster I had parents that were obsessed with the outdoors - they still are now.
"They were very adventurous and they always had ideas of things we could do outside. But that's not going to be the case with everyone, and I want to get as many different ideas out there as possible so adults can get some inspiration.
"All the fondest memories I have with my parents are of doing beach things with them when I was a kid, and they're things I still treasure even now.
"This is the way that we build up those all-important relationships with our youngsters that will hopefully last the rest of our lives."
- For more information about the Brave Bones Club, an initiative set up by Cheestrings & Yollies, and to earn adventure badges, visit www.bravebonesclub.com