Wildlife artist ROBERT FULLER reflects on his childhood days

BECOMING a father has made me reflect a lot on my own childhood and how different it was to the way many children live today.

I grew up in Givendale, where my own father was a farm manager, and pretty much all my waking hours were spent out of doors, whatever the weather.

My brother and I roamed the fields, climbed trees, fished in ponds, waded in mud, ferreted for rabbits and generally got as filthy and mucky as it was possible to get. We only came home at meal times.

According to research published by the National Trust, very few children these days are given the freedom to explore the countryside.

Instead, they lead unhealthy “couch potato” lives, increasingly disconnected from nature and the outside world.

It is terrible to hear that there has been a rise in childhood obesity. And as a wildlife artist, it is desperately sad to learn that children nowadays are more likely to recognise a dalek from TV’s Dr Who than a barn owl.

TVs and computers are robbing children of a healthy and active childhood and apparently parents allow this to happen because they have become frightened and confused by perceived risks of things like “stranger danger” or “germs”.

I was lucky to be able to handle livestock on the farm as a child and our garden was littered with coops and aviaries where we kept partridges, pheasants, ferrets, rabbits, chickens, ducks, as well as orphaned birds of prey or injured foxes and even a deer that I had adopted.

I once nursed a little owl which would perch on the clock in the kitchen and even ride on the handlebars of my bicycle. I taught it to hunt by letting a beetle loose across the living room carpet.

Wild animals interested me the most and I spent so much time watching a badger sett as a teenager that I think I was accepted as part of the clan.

This year, the National Trust has called on a number of different organisations to reach out to children and encourage them to get in touch with nature.

I thought I would try to do my bit by offering them the experiences that first grasped my attention as a child.

So, next month I have invited a mobile petting farm to visit the gallery. The gallery courtyard will be transformed for the day with pens containing new-born lambs, calves, piglets, goslings and ducklings.

It is bound to be a noisy event and I hope as many families as possible will bring their children to handle the animals.

They are all invited into the gallery afterwards to see my paintings of some wilder species and I’ll make sure there are plenty of pencils and paper available so that they can try their hand at drawing their favourites.

The event takes place here at the gallery in Thixendale on Saturday, March 16, noon-3.30pm. It is a free event, but numbers are limited so if you want to come register online at www.robertefuller.com