Why are modern children disconnected from nature?

Wednesday 4th November 2015

Children are happier, healthier and more creative when they are connected to nature. We want every child to have the opportunity to have wild experiences and learn about nature.

Every Child Wild find out more about the Wildlife Trusts latest campaign.

Recent evidence has shown that access to nature can improve mental and physical health and well-being. Of course this is something we already knew. It’s the reason we have gardens, the reason we have plants and flowers in our homes, the reason we plant trees in cities, create parks and hang landscape paintings on our walls. Yes we all know that nature makes us feel better.

But then why are so many parents concerned that Britain’s children are missing out on wildlife experiences? In a recent YouGov poll 78% of parents of children aged 18 and under thought that children don’t spend enough time interacting with nature.

We evolved as part of nature, immersed in wildlife. While the modern world provides many wonderful and necessary things there has been a cost to its creation and that has been felt most keenly by wildlife, which is in decline, and by all us who without it are suffering a sense of loss.

Our children are growing up disconnected from nature, with just one in ten ever playing in wild places. The Wildlife Trusts reach around half a million children each year, many with outdoor experiences through their school, but are concerned that many more children are not getting the chance to get close to wildlife.

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.”

The poll also reveals:

  • • 57% of parents said their children spend a little less or a lot less time outdoors than they did - many children are missing out on contact with the natural world

The Wildlife Trusts work with schools and teachers who are passionate about using the outdoors but this poll shows wildlife experiences are limited in schools:

A study of 345,143 medical records showed that living within a kilometre of a green space reduces the risk of 15 major illnesses particularly anxiety and depression, and even more so for children. There is also compelling evidence that children who grow up with nature are more likely to protect wildlife when they are older.

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 (see www.wildlifetrusts.org/everychildwild). It offers top practical tips for successful family adventures, inspiration from young people with a passion for nature and much more, including:

  • A new Every Wild Child report, with insights gathered from a poll asking parents and children about wild experiences during childhood
  • The Art of Getting Children outdoors: A Practical Guide to Family Adventures, offering practical ideas for parents to inspire children to get outdoors, by Jen and Sim Benson from A Wild Year
  • •A podcast with five young people, aged 10-16, discussing what it’s like growing up with a passion for nature
  • Daily blogs on The Wildlife Trusts’ website throughout November from well-known wildlife champions, children, parents, teachers and others on ideas for reconnecting children and nature
  • Short surveys for teachers and parents (and anyone else) to share ideas for reconnecting children with nature at home and at school. The Wildlife Trusts are also hoping to gather more information about wild experiences during childhood from people of all ages. See www.wildlifetrusts.org/everychildwild

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.”

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.”

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.