Evidence has been growing for a number of years pointing to the array of health and social benefits to be derived from contact with the natural world for all ages1. However, results from a new YouGov poll, commissioned by The Wildlife Trusts, highlight the discrepancy between what parents think is best for children and what they actually experience.
The Wildlife Trusts, who reach around half a million children each year through their junior membership and work with schools, are concerned about a loss of contact with wildlife during childhood. Despite the fundamental importance of nature to childhood the signs are that a generation of children is growing up at arm’s-length from the natural world. Children’s freedom to roam and time spent outdoors has shrunk disconnected from natureand with it their opportunities to discover wildlife, with just one in ten ever playing in wild places.
Our new poll shows that:
Sir David Attenborough, President Emeritus of The Wildlife Trusts, said: “We will be physically, mentally and spiritually impoverished if our children are deprived of contact with the natural world. Contact with nature should not be the preserve of the privileged. It is critical to the personal development of our children.”
However, a generation of children is growing up disconnected from nature, with just one in ten ever playing in wild places2. The Wildlife Trusts reach around half a million children each year, many with outdoor experiences through their school, but we are concerned that many more children are not getting the chance to get close to wildlife.
The poll also reveals:
The Wildlife Trusts work with schools and teachers who are passionate about using the outdoors but our poll also indicated wildlife experiences are limited in schools:
Lucy McRobert, The Wildlife Trusts’ Nature Matters campaign manager, said: “We know that first-hand contact with nature is good for children. It makes them happier, healthier and more creative and for some it can have a life-changing impact. But there’s a gap between what society intuitively knows is best for children and what they’re actually getting. The results of our poll illustrate that some children are missing out on the contact with nature their parents and grandparents are likely to have known. This is partly due to the changes in our everyday lives and partly due to diminishing opportunities: wild places are vanishing and wild animals such as starlings and hedgehogs have declined massively over the past 50 years.
“Parents clearly think it is important for children to have outdoor experiences and we need to help schools make the most of opportunities for them to discover nature. There are some creative teachers using wildlife and wild places to engage and enthuse pupils but we need to help nature become a more central part of school life, enabling more children to have special wildlife moments close to home.”
More encouragingly, 95% of the children polled have visited a park with their parent/guardian or grandparent, and many (82%) had held a ladybird, highlighting the importance of using urban environments like parks and gardens as places where children can discover and experience wildlife.
In a bid to ensure every child in the UK has an opportunity to enjoy regular contact with nature, over the next year The Wildlife Trusts are inviting individuals, parents, teachers, schools and organisations to share their ideas on what needs to happen to put the wild back into childhood and make ‘every child wild’ as part of a new initiative called Every Child Wild .
Every Child Wild offers top practical tips for successful family adventures, inspiration from young people with a passion for nature and much more, including:
Sir David Attenborough adds: “The Wildlife Trusts are giving countless people the chance to experience wildlife in their everyday lives. It is moving to see the delight on the face of a six year old looking at a pond skater or caddis fly larva.”Lucy McRobert continues: “The Wildlife Trusts are a leading provider of outdoor learning and early nature experiences in the UK through our Wildlife Watch groups, school outreach work, volunteering opportunities, Forest Schools and the huge number of wild events that we offer every year. We hope Every Child Wild will get people talking and sharing ideas about how we can all help to put the wild back in childhood. We need to empower families, teachers and schools to ensure children have access to nature and to engage with it on a regular basis. Together, we are all nurturing the next generation of naturalists, animal-lovers, birdwatchers, explorers, scientists, campaigners and politicians to try and slow the decline of nature.”
Billy Stockwell is a 16 year old from Nottingham. He features in a new podcast in which five young people discuss what it’s like growing up with a passion for nature. Billy says: “There’s a physical side of nature, like trees and ponds and fields, but then there’s the symbolic side of nature, which makes you realise that some things just aren’t as important as you thought they were. The other day I dropped my phone. I was so annoyed but then spending time in nature, which has been around for millions of years, helped me to understand that I worried about the little things far too much. We need to learn when to turn the computer off and actually go outside and have experiences.”
Experience nature with your Wildlife Trust and take your child(ren) to one of our events, nature reserves, Wildlife Watch groups or join as a family. Join in the discussion with Every Child Wild and share your ideas and inspiration for reconnecting children with nature using #EveryChildWild on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.