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Project Wild Thing Blog: Is Squeamishness a Barrier to Nature?

I recently convinced my 5-year-old daughter Ivy to kiss a frog. The species in question was Rana temporaria, the common frog, but this particular frog was far from common. The little chap was called Arthur and he was a stunt frog. He was the star of a recent episode of Holby City, and practically had his own BBC dressing room for his numerous appearances on CBeebies. Arthur is the Harry Styles of the frog world.

I was in the middle of filming Project Wild Thing. In the film I attempt to market nature as a brand, and I needed a billboard poster that would really stand out. The poster was to be on hoardings across the country so the image had to capture the wild spirit of children, and the thrill they get by going outside and spending time in nature. It was a tough brief. We considered loads of ideas and images but finally decided that the striking, and we hoped shocking image of a young child actually kissing a frog, alongside the strapline ‘GET INTO NATURE’, would fulfill the tall order of persuading parents to encourage children to embrace nature and spend more time outdoors.

I asked my daughter Ivy to appear in the shot. It took some bribery. We settled on a new doll and some sweets. Our budget could just about stretch to that, so before she had a chance to change her mind I ordered a Barbie from Amazon, booked a photographer friend and called Celebrity Amphibians, the frog wranglers. The shoot went well. Ivy’s going rate is one frog kiss for one Tic Tac. She definitely earned the new doll. The poster looks great.
But is it really important to experience nature in all its wriggling, slimy glory? Should we kiss frogs? The image is designed to be arresting, but it does raise a serious point.
If we don’t get close to nature – smell it, touch it, taste it, get lost in it, sometimes even kiss it – then we can easily miss its true beauty.

Film director Woody Allen once said, I love nature, I just don’t want to get any of it on me. But if we keep nature off children, keep their knees mud-less their clothes grass-free, teach them (either explicitly or by our own wincing example) that dirt is bad and encourage them to obsessively wash their hands and slaver themselves in anti-bacterial gel, then we alter their sense of what nature is. We are saying Beware of nature! But we are nature.
As we spend more time in cities, in cars, and indoors, we get less and less nature on us. And we discourage our children’s natural, impish urge to jump full force into a muddy puddle that is 2 inches over their wellies, or roll down a grassy hill in their pine-fresh, whiter-than-white clothes.

I recently interviewed naturalist Chris Packham for the film. He knows what stops children getting dirty. It is not their own natural squeamishness, because none of us is born with natural squeamishness. He said: Children have a natural fascination to touch and to feel things, it is part of their existing in the world. It is not the kids that don’t want to put their hands in the mud or jump in the pond or pick up a worm, or even eat a worm; it is the adults who have said ‘no’.

The frog-kissing image went up all around the UK on huge hoardings in train stations, shopping malls and along roadsides. Media company JC Decaux (which kindly donated the space) said the poster was seen by over 25 million eyeballs. And that means 25 million people apparently – even though we most have two eyeballs.

The Advertising Standards Authority received complaints about the poster. Someone in Cardiff thought it was cruel to kiss frogs. No complaints were upheld. The poster went viral, and was posted all over the place, including on 9GAG, an image sharing website, where it was shared and liked over 10,000 times. So in general people got it.

We’ve not yet had the research back on whether or not the poster encouraged more adults to send children into the garden and lock the door. Or whether more frogs have since been kissed. But I do now have the perfect image for my father-of-the-bride speech if Ivy ever gets married, twenty or so years from now. I hope between now and then she’ll get to kiss a few more frogs.

All content and images © Green Lions Ltd 2013

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