Act now to save children’s relationship with the outdoors

National Trust in Northumberland

National Trust in Northumberland

Evidence of a long-term and dramatic decline in children’s relationship with the outdoors is ‘overwhelming’ and urgent action is needed to bridge this growing gap before its too late, according to a new report published today by the National Trust.

In his Natural Childhood report  naturalist, author and TV producer Stephen Moss charts years of academic research and a steady stream of surveys on the subject, highlighting how a generation of children is finally losing touch with the natural world.

The report outlines a clear need to tackle the rise of ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’, a term coined by the US based writer Richard Louv, to describe a growing dislocation between children and nature.

Report author Stephen Moss, said: “We have all seen the headlines about the decline in children’s play in the outdoors.

“We all know the benefits being outdoors can bring, and as parents we want our children to spend more time outdoors than they do.

“But despite this overwhelming evidence and the different initiatives and schemes run by organisations across the UK, our kids are spending less and less time in the outdoors.

“The time to act is now, whilst we still have a generation of parents and grandparents who grew up outdoors and can pass on their experience and whilst there remains a determination to do something positive in this area.

“Organisations that have an interest in this area, whether working in our towns and cities or in the countryside, have to connect what they are doing and commit to a long-term approach that really makes a difference.”

A two-month inquiry, facilitated by the National Trust, will take evidence from leading experts and the public to look at how we can reconnect this and future generations of children with the natural world.

The National Trust is working alongside Arla, the NHS Sustainable Development Unit and film-makers Green Lions, to organise a summit this summer to bring together a range of experts to develop a roadmap for reconnecting children and nature.

Fiona Reynolds, Director-General of the National Trust, said: ““Getting outdoors and closer to nature has all sorts of benefits for our children. It keeps them fit, they can learn about the world around them and most of all its fun.

“That’s why it’s so worrying that so many children today don’t have the opportunity to experience the outdoors and nature. Building a den, picking flowers, climbing trees – the outdoors is a treasure trove, rich in imagination. It brings huge benefits that we believe every child should have the opportunity to experience.  And there are huge costs when they don‘t.

“As a nation we need to do everything we can to make it easy and safe for our children to get outdoors.

“We want to move the debate on and encourage people and organisations to think about how we take practical steps to reconnect children with the natural world and inspire them to get outdoors.”

During the last decade conservation groups, academics, social and health professionals and the media have charted the rise of so-called ‘cotton-wool kids’ and countless examples of what is going wrong.

The statistics reveal that things have changed dramatically in just one generation:

  • Fewer than ten per cent of kids play in wild places; down from 50 per cent a generation ago
  • The roaming radius for kids has declined by 90 per cent in one generation (thirty years)
  • Three times as many children are taken to hospital each year after falling out of bed, as from falling out of trees
  • A 2008 study showed that half of all kids had been stopped from climbing trees, 20 per cent had been banned from playing conkers or games of tag

Authority figures and layers of bureaucracy have combined with a climate of ‘don’t do that’ to create an environment where fewer and fewer children play in the outdoors.  This has led to a situation where kids having fun in the outdoors are painted as showing signs of anti social behaviour.

The research shows that capturing children before they enter the teenage years is crucial with the research clearly showing if you get kids hooked before they reach twelve years old, you’ll create a lifelong passion for the environment.

Stephen Moss, continued: “The good news is that almost everyone – parents, grandparents, teachers, health professionals, conservationists, social commentators and politicians from all across the political spectrum – agree that something needs to be done to reverse the trend towards housebound kids.

“Now we need to work together to achieve simple, effective ways to get them outdoors.

“I truly believe that just as children need a good diet, education and healthcare, so they need to connect with the natural world. Now we have a real chance to turn Britain’s cotton-wool kids into free-range children.”

There are many ways that people can get involved in the inquiry.  More information about the inquiry can be found at www.nationaltrust.org.uk/naturalchildhood including details of how to contribute to the inquiry.

There will also be a twitter feed @outdoor_nation, where we will be using the hashtag #naturalchildhood to keep the debate and ideas flowing and an email address outdoor.nation@nationaltrust.org.uk.  The inquiry will close on 25 May 2012.


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