Connecting Children with Nature: Natural England report

Last week Natural England published some eye-opening statistics. Their report, the product of two years’ worth of research, looked at how often children visit natural places, where they visit and with whom.

© National Trust Images/ John Millar

© National Trust Images/ John Millar

Natural England’s major finding, reported in the Guardian, is that over 1 in 9 (12%) of children haven’t visited a natural place in the last year.

White, wealthier children were more likely to visit natural places like parks, nature reserves and the coast than ethnic minority children or those growing up in poorer families.

But the report contained plenty to celebrate.

  • It was estimated that around 7 million children visited natural places at least once a week.
  • Almost 1 in 10 claimed to have visited a natural place with their school – although the real figure may be even higher.
  • In the average month, half of children visit their local park.

For conservation charities like the National Trust, last week’s report also contained much we need to learn from.

Since 2012 it’s been the National Trust’s goal to help connect children under 12 with nature.

Published that year, our Natural Childhood report set out a worrying trend of children becoming more and more disconnected from nature.

Since then, we’ve been inspiring young outdoor adventurers with our campaign, 50 things to do before you’re 11¾, and working with our partners on Project Wild Thing and the Wild Network to highlight how children are growing more distant from nature – and why it matters.

But if we want to get children outdoors and back to nature, we need to do more. Natural England’s report contained some interesting pointers.

  • If we want to connect children with nature, we have to get the whole family involved. Three quarters of children visit nature with their family. Relatively few – one in five – visit on their own or with friends.
  • And we need to connect children with the nature on their doorstep. Almost half of all children are visiting their local park every month. Relatively few stray further afield, visiting nature reserves, countryside or beaches far from home.
  • But what the Natural England research doesn’t tell us is why or how children care about nature. The research doesn’t tell us how connected children are to nature.

Why does connection matter? Because people who are more connected to nature are more likely to visit natural places and take the kinds of actions that’ll help protect nature for generations to come.

Research published this month by the RSPB and University of Derby also found that children who are more connected to nature are more likely to visit the natural environment, and score better in English exams than their less nature-connected peers.

With Natural England, RSPB, the Wildlife Trusts and other academic partners, we’ve been working to develop a simple way of measuring people’s connection to nature.

If we can develop a good measure for connection to nature we’ll be able understand more about how people get connected to nature and how campaigns like 50 things to do before you’re 11¾ can have a positive impact.

Our work on nature connection will be presented at the University of Derby’s upcoming conference, Nature Connections 2016, in June. Tickets for the conference have just gone on sale and can be purchased from the University of Derby.

Find out more about how the National Trust is connecting families with nature.

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