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National Trust welcomes All-Party Commission on Physical Activity

The National Trust wholeheartedly welcomes the establishment today of an All-Party Commission on Physical Activity. We believe it would hugely benefit from examining the evidence for the role of nature and the outdoors in supporting increased levels of physical activity across the population.

In March 2012 we published our Natural Childhood Report – which looked at the state of children’s relationship with nature and the outdoors. This showed that too many children were missing out on many of the crucial physical and mental health benefits of time spent regularly playing outdoors. Our subsequent Reconnecting Children with Nature report also highlighted some of the barriers which stopped children spending more active time outdoors    .

 This spurred us into action to do more:

  • The Wild Network – we have worked with partners in recently establishing the Wild Network, a very rapidly growing multi-sector coalition of organisations (from environment, play, youth, health, nursery and education sectors) who want every child to enjoy the benefits of more time spent playing outdoors and closer to nature. We believe that this civil society-based coalition shows great potential for finding ways that work for families and encourage more children and their parents and carers to enjoy the health benefits of more active time outdoors. As part of this work we have supported with partners the recent release of Project Wild Thing, a feature-length documentary which explores children’s relationship with nature and the outdoors – we believe that the Cross-Party group would benefit greatly from watching this film.
  • The Great British Walk – we are currently celebrating our annual Great British walk with support from PruHealth. Research by the University of Bath this year showed that our most downloaded walk – a route around “Bath Skyline” – expended the equivalent effort as playing 90 minutes of football, tennis or badminton.
  • 50 Things to Do Before You’re 11 ¾ – our challenging list of outdoors activities, that every child should do before their 12, has been one of our most successful campaigns, showing how focussing on the enjoyment of outdoors for children and families can inspire and motivate them to get more active.
  • Our partnership with Sport England – we are currently working on a large partnership to develop more sporting activities across National Trust land. We are looking at ways to encourage more outdoors activities such as running, cycling and kayaking. As part of this work we are investing in new cycling routes and facilities, encouraging activities such as family Parkruns and linking up with local sports organisations to use the beauty of the places we care for to inspire people to get more active.

We very much look forward to submitting evidence to the Commission. We believe it’s important that they examine the positive role that the outdoors and nature can play in inspiring people to be more active as part of their family life and leisure time. Conversely we believe it’s important that they consider the barriers which prevent people spending more active time outdoors, especially children and their families.

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Is it fair? Child poverty and fair access green space

A report released today by the National Children’s Bureau reveals an ugly truth. The number of children in the UK living in poverty is on the rise. In 1971, 2 million children were deemed to be living ‘in poverty’. Today it’s 3 million.

The report, ‘Greater Expectations’, isn’t just focussed on material poverty – not having things – but poverty of experience, too. Children growing up in poverty are nine times less likely than children in more affluent households to have access to green space, places to play and to live in environments with better air quality.

That’s 3 million children growing up in environmental poverty.

Our founder, Octavia Hill, was keenly aware of the nature deficit that often comes with poverty – particularly for those in urban areas.

Hill was a fierce campaigner for the right of all Londoners – especially those living in poverty – to have fair access to open green space. Nearly a century and a half ago, she wrote that there are ‘two great wants in the life of the poor of our large towns which ought to be realised more than they are – the want of space and the want of beauty’. For Octavia Hill, getting out into ‘open space’ and spending time in the beauty of nature helped people flourish and ‘become the men they are meant to be’.

The same is true today. People need nature. Many children living in poverty, the report makes stark, are not able to access nature. They don’t have the chance to become the people they were meant to be.

In the film Project Wild Thing, part of a wider campaign to reconnect children and nature that the National Trust is supporting, filmmaker David Bond meets Mason. Mason’s ten years old and living on an estate in east London within spitting distance of the City.

There isn’t very much green space near where Mason lives. In Project Wild Thing we see him staring through a wire fence at a dusty building site. ‘There was quite a bit of greenery around here, but they’ve put buildings onto it.’ He shrugs, ‘they’ve taken a lot of space from us and it’s not really fair I don’t think.’

David and Mason (c) Green Lions Ltd

David and Mason (c) Green Lions Ltd

Just down the road from Mason is Mile End Park – 90 acres of green space right in the East End. But Mason and his friends don’t play there. They can’t get to the park. They’re too scared of the older children who can run faster than them.

Like many children, Mason suffers from a poverty of experience. He doesn’t have the opportunity to access quality green space freely and regularly.

That’s not fair.

It’s one of the reasons why the National Trust is joining a whole host of others in supporting the Project Wild Thing campaign, launching on 25th October. We want to see all children have fair access to the amazing benefits nature and the outdoors provide. We want to make all children nature rich.


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Wild things in the city: meet the interns!

She rolled, head over tail, down the grassy embankment before coming to stop in a tumbled heap beside the pavement. A passing car hooted its encouragement.

Breathless, Eva jumped up. ‘I’m re-experiencing my childhood’, she laughed. ‘That was really good!’ Around her, looking suitably impressed, stood the five other new interns in the Media and External Affairs department  at Heelis, the National Trust’s central office in Swindon.

Taking advantage of rare patchy blue skies, we had ventured out of the office and were heading for a local park in the centre of Swindon. We planned to try out some of the activities on the Trust’s re-launched list of 50 things to do before you’re 11¾. We had barely left the office when Eva, who works on international affairs, spotted the grassy embankment and demanded we stop and have a go at the second ‘thing’ on the new list: roll down a really steep hill.

Re-launched last week, all the activities on the new 50 things list have been chosen by children from across the UK. From climbing a tree to camping outdoors, they are things that can be done anywhere – by anyone.

50 things to do before you’re 11¾ forms part of the Trust’s efforts to connect children and nature. We believe that every child should have the opportunity to spend more time in nature. Unfortunately, many children in the UK aren’t able or willing to spend time outdoors and in nature. A recent study by JCB Kids for their Fresh Air campaign found that children today are spending half the amount of time playing outside as their parents used to when they were children. . Some leading naturalists fear that if children aren’t brought up with a close bond to the natural world, they won’t care enough about nature as adults to want to fight to conserve it. ‘No one will protect what they don’t care about’, argues Sir David Attenborough, ‘and no one will care about what they have never experienced’. 

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Why 11¾?

Some studies indicate that the most significant period in a child’s development in relation to the natural world occurs in ‘middle childhood’ (ages 6-12), before the age of 12. The RSPB’s measurement of children’s connection to nature has taken children from a similar age range (8-12) in order to create its baseline measure against which other children’s connection can be compared.Although it’s important that children forge a connection with nature before the age of 12, the 50 things list is not the sole preserve of the under-12s. They can be enjoyed by people of all ages – the shrieks of laughter coming from the interns as they climbed the tree in our central Swindon park are testament to that fact. They expressed genuine regret that, as adults, they didn’t do things like climbing trees as often as they used to as children. ‘I think I just got old and boring’, sighed Laura, who works on the Trust’s planning campaigns. Smiling, she said, ‘I need to start climbing trees again.’

Which she did. Immediately. And barefoot, too.

Many of the activities on the 50 things can be enjoyed anywhere. You can make a mud pie in a national park or your local city park. We spent a happy time climbing trees and making daisy chains in a local city park, bordered by grey tarmac and greyer office blocks. For Laura, the list represents a way to ‘get out in nature and connect with the wildlife that we’ve got on our doorsteps’. ‘It’s a way for kids to get dirty. It’s a way for kids to have some fun and just connect with the environment around them.’

What we’re doing

We recognise that 50 things is only part of the solution to getting children engaging with the natural world. Following last year’s Natural Childhood report and inquiry, we are now working with a number of organisations to build a partnership, known collectively as The Wild Network. The founders of this movement to connect children in the UK with nature and the outdoors are the RSPB, NHS Sustainable Development Unit, AMV BBDO, BritDoc, filmmakers Green Lions, National Trust, Play England, Play Wales, Playboard Northern Ireland and Play Scotland. Starting in June, The Wild Network will launch a series of campaigns and projects to tackle the barriers to children getting outdoors.

Our first project will be a new, feature-length documentary examining children’s disconnection from nature. Premiering at the Sheffield Documentary Film Festival in June, Project Wild Thing follows director David Bond as he appoints himself Marketing Director for Nature in a bid to ‘sell’ his wonder product to apathetic children – including his own.

 Whilst it isn’t the catch-all solution to children’s dislocation from nature and the outdoors, 50 things to do before you’re 11¾ is bursting with fun activities and could help spark a lifelong interest in the natural world. The intern working on the Neptune Coastline Campaign, Howard, put it simply. Watching Morwenna scrambling across a knotted tree trunk, he smiled. ‘It’s just a great list for adventure and excitement.’

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