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BBC Gardeners' World Magazine survey reveals unfamiliarity with nature

By North Devon Journal  |  Posted: May 02, 2014

Most people struggle to recognise the most common shrubs, wildflowers and trees in the countryside, a survey suggests.

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WHEN it comes to identifying some of Britain’s most common types of trees, it seems many of us are barking up the wrong tree.

Most people struggle to recognise the most common shrubs, wildflowers and trees in the countryside, a survey suggests.

Just one in 50 people (2%) were able to identify all five pictures of the common trees they were shown, while only 5% were able to name all the most common shrubs, the poll of more than 2,000 people for BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine found.

People scored better on wildflowers, with a third of those quizzed able to identify all five common blooms they were shown.

The survey also revealed that the over-55s were generally much better at identifying plants than youngsters, while women scored higher than men on all of the plants they were quizzed on.

“The numbers of people able to identify common trees, wildflowers and shrubs is a little concerning,” Devon Wildlife Trust’s Steve Hussey said.

“However, I think the appetite for nature – being in it, experiencing it – remains strong, especially here in the South West.

“People can be intimidated or confused by the sheer range of species, with their often funny sounding names. But learning to identify just a few familiar plants and animals is a great way to start a life-long passion for wildlife.

“It’s a reason why Devon Wildlife Trust has an education officer whose job it is to engage with young people, helping them to enjoy and value the natural world on their doorsteps.”

In the wake of the results, top gardener and TV presenter Alan Titchmarsh warned that many people were now more familiar with technology and social media than common plants, and urged the public to experience the outdoors more.

“It is worrying that the next generation is not being awakened to the delights of the great outdoors – once common knowledge but now a mystery to millions more familiar with Facebook and Twitter,” he said.

“I was born in an age when tweeting was something that sparrows did and a mouse was something that made a hole in your skirting board.

“But to modern eyes, the sight of birch, campion, horse chestnut and hazel is now alien. Yet if we have no knowledge of the world around us, how are we able to defend its future properly?

“We can’t turn back the clock, but we can ensure that our knowledge of the living world is not lost. It’s high time the population was reconnected with nature.”

Most people could identify some of the flowers and the daisy scored mostly highly, with 93% of people correctly identifying the plant. Almost as many could name a foxglove (90%) and a bluebell (87%), while two-thirds could name a cowslip.

Less than half (43%) of those polled identified the campion.

Among trees, the oak was the most recognised, with more than nine out of 10 people (91%) correctly identifying it.

More than half (52%) could identify a beech, and a quarter (26%) recognised an ash tree, but only 15% identified the birch and only 16% correctly named the small-leaved lime.

The most recognisable shrub was an elder, correctly named by 60% of people, while the hardest to identify were spindle (18%) and blackthorn (19%).

BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine is urging people to make the most of May to experience nature and visit gardens.

Editor Lucy Hall added: “The world around us is more amazing than any screen, the best 3D experience of all and we are urging people to go out and experience it. Connect with nature, not just technology.

“The encouraging thing is that despite the lack of knowledge of the natural world, we all see it as of vital importance.”

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