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Green shoots in the urban jungle

Last modified: 16 October 2013

Boys and bug bowl

Putting our heads together to help children enjoy & understand nature

Image: RSPB - Jo Hearne

Modern children are divorced from nature. This finding from a new study is alarming conservationists who fear future generations will care less for our environment.

A three-year research project, undertaken by the RSPB, found three-quarters of London children are disconnected from nature. Their understanding and engagement with nature was assessed and was found to be less than ideal.

The report was undertaken 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 as much a threat to UK nature as climate change. The new study shows there are statistically significant differences between children’s connection to nature at a national level across the UK, as well as between boys and girls, and British urban and rural homes.

While the overall findings are worrying, the good news is that young Londoners have a greater affinity with nature than rural children.

 

Rachel Bragg has been leading the work at the University of Essex. She says; "It’s vital that we understand how a child’s experience of nature influences their feelings of connection to the natural world as this will affect future behaviour towards the environment."

In May, 25 wildlife organisations, including the RSPB, released the groundbreaking State of Nature report, which revealed 60 per cent of the wildlife species studied have declined over recent decades. The charity believes that ensuring young people are connected to nature will mean they develop deeply-held feelings and attitudes towards wildlife and the world we all live in; and as a result will care enough to help save it in the future.

Dr Mike Clarke, RSPB Chief Executive, presented the report to ministers at Westminster and is urging governments and local authorities to adopt this new approach. He says “Millions of people are increasingly worried 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 in the UK, which means the problem hasn’t been given the attention it deserves.

“Nature is in trouble; the recent State of Nature report showed that. We can all take action to put nature back into childhood, to ensure young people have better lives and a better future. We've created a baseline that we and others can use to measure just how connected to nature the UK’s children really are. We are recommending that governments and local authorities take action to increase it through policy and practice decisions.”Andrew Barnett, Director of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in the UK, says: "We are delighted to have supported this groundbreaking study. Robust evidence of children’s connection with nature will be a powerful lever for change."

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’.

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; a collaboration between organisations aiming to reverse the trend of children losing touch with the natural world and playing outdoors.

In London, the RSPB is working with partners to increase opportunities for families to connect with nature. Our Wild about Hampstead Heath project is working with local communities and schools to develop new opportunities for natural play and discovery on the Heath. Previous projects have been run in Regent's Park, and east London's Lee Valley.

The kind support of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and the University of Essex made the Connection to Nature report possible.

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