Pocket Pals is a number of digital projects that have been developed by young entrepreneurs funded through The Environment Now programme backed by O2 and the National Lottery’s Big Lottery Fund through the Our Bright Future programme. It is managed by the National Youth Agency.
I’ve just finished studying Zoology where I was surrounded by hundreds of bioscience students that were studying degrees in Ecology, Conservation and Marine Science. My flatmates would frequently go to the pub and then go moth trapping along the coast, and I often went on short walks with my binoculars. But now that I’ve graduated, I’ve realised how disconnected other young people are with the natural world.
A couple of years ago, Pokémon GO exploded and had 500 million users worldwide. The app utilises GPS on mobile devices and people across the globe were going outside and hunting Pokémon, but they were finding fantasy creatures. This is when my friend Matt Brown and I started toying around the idea of making an app based on the animals of Britain. It would be educational, but have the same mechanics of Pokémon Go – you would need to walk to find the animals.
Matt studied animation at Falmouth University, so he began practising making 3D animated animals. We pitched the idea to ‘The Environment Now’ team (a collaboration between O2, Our Bright Future and the National Youth Agency). To our surprise, we received one of their 50, grants of £10,000 that are helping other entrepreneurs aged 17-24 from across the UK, to tackle environmental issues using digital technology. The funding really helped us get others on board and we soon had a team of 12 animation students and two app developers.
To begin with, several organisations were sceptical of Pocket Pals. They disliked that we were bridging nature and technology, and many organisations believed a mobile app would discourage children to engage with real wildlife. But how else are children going to get excited about wildlife? Role models help a lot, but many natural history personalities are much older than young children, and as a result, may not seem relevant to an eight-year-old. We’ve made Pocket Pals to be as appealing as possible for children. Our character dabs and flosses and you can also customise it to have pink and blue hair. The entire game is charismatically animated.
The UK is now one of the “most nature-depleted countries in the world” with more than one in seven species facing extinction and more than half in decline, according to the State of Nature 2016 report. Britain is unfortunately in an ecological crisis, and if children continue to be disconnected from the natural world, what will the state of nature look like in 20 years’ time? Can technology help to bridge this gap?
Pocket Pals aims to engage young people with the natural world so they learn to appreciate wildlife and the environment that surrounds us. Maybe if we all learn to love nature, we’ll appreciate the importance of green growth as highlighted in the Green Great Britain Week.
Here’s a wonderful quote by our Youth Ambassador, 15-year-old Bella Lack: “We only protect what we love and we only love what we know.”
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