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Children in Scotland more 'connected to nature' than elsewhere in UK

Last modified: 16 October 2013

Family Day & minibeast hunt, children sweep netting, Lochwinnoch

Image: Andy Hay

Children in Scotland have a significantly higher score of connection to nature than the average for the rest of the UK, according to the results of a three-year research project undertaken by the RSPB and the University of Essex.

The unprecedented study revealed that 27% of children in Scotland were found to have a ‘realistic and achievable’ level of connection to nature compared with the national UK average of 21%.

It also highlights statistically significant differences in children’s connection to nature between girls and boys and British urban and rural homes.

Researchers developed a framework of four key descriptions of children’s feelings towards nature in order to define and measure their level of connection to nature. 1200 children aged 8-12 from across the UK were then given questionnaires designed to assess their enjoyment of nature, empathy for creatures, sense of oneness with nature (or ability to recognise their place in the wider environment), and sense of responsibility for the environment. They were then scored based on their answers.

The report has been produced as a result of growing concerns over generations of children with little or no contact with the natural world and wildlife, which the RSPB believes is one of the biggest threats to UK nature.

The nature conservation charity is calling for further research in Scotland to establish a baseline for measuring connection with nature year-on-year.

Rebekah Stackhouse, Education and Youth Programmes Manager for RSPB Scotland, said: “This report is ground-breaking. It’s widely accepted that today’s children have less contact with nature than ever before.  But until now, there has been no robust scientific attempt to measure and track connection to nature among children across the whole of the UK, which means the problem hasn’t been given the attention it deserves.

“It’s important we work in partnership in Scotland to take these initial findings and continue to develop a baseline specific to our country which we can measure against year-on-year and track progress. The Scottish Government has shown leadership in supporting outdoor learning in schools, and in supporting the establishment of Learning for Sustainability Scotland, but it is clear that more must be done on all levels to ensure our children share a love of the natural world and desire to protect it.”

Over the last decade, a large amount of research has been carried out into the diverse benefits for children of contact with nature and outdoor experiences.  These benefits include positive impacts on education, physical health emotional wellbeing and personal and social skills.

Evidence about the impact of an inactive and indoors childhood has grown over the summer with the Chief Executive of the British Heart Foundation calling for a return to the ‘traditional outdoors childhood’ [see editors’ notes 3].

The RSPB believes everyone, from governments to organisations and individuals, has a role to play in connecting children to nature, which is why it has signed up to The Wild Network.  The Wild Network is a unique and pioneering collaboration between organisations across the UK with an aim to let kids get back their ‘wild time’ and reverse the trend of children losing touch with the natural world and playing outdoors [see editors’ notes].

How you can help

Nature in the UK is in trouble and some of our more familiar garden species are amongst those suffering serious declines. We can all help by giving nature a home where we live.

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