Recognising the heroes connecting young people with nature

Monday 24th March 2014

Wildlife sound recording cpt Emma Bradshaw

Today marks the start of a two month search for the heroes connecting young people with nature across the UK.

We see so many emotional and moving experiences of where nature inspires children and changes their life for the better - not just as a one-off but for a lifetime

A search is on for the volunteers, professionals and groups who are committing time, energy and resource to sparking young people’s interest in nature and the outdoors, spearheaded by The Wild Network[1] and BBC Countryfile Magazine[2].

Children have never been more disconnected from nature, as confirmed by research carried out by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the University of Essex last October.  The findings reveal that only one in five children under-12 have a ‘connection to nature’[3]. Time spent playing outdoors has halved in a generation[4] and children are more likely to recognise television characters than common wildlife species[5].

The awards were set up in 2012 by the National Trust and BBC Countryfile Magazine to celebrate the life and legacy of social reformer, environmental champion and one of the National Trust founders, Octavia Hill[6].

Nominations for the three categories – volunteer, professional and group[7] – will be judged by a panel of experts before being put to a public online poll.

Last year the Octavia Hill Awards attracted more than 140 nominations, with over 10,000 votes cast online to decide the winner.

There's an amazing network of more than 1,000 local volunteers, over 300 Wildlife Trust staff and hundreds of forest schools enthusiasts all dedicated to providing the practical opportunities for children to get hands-on and closer to nature

The judges for this year’s awards  include: David Bond, Director of Project Wild Thing, Wayne Bulpitt, UK Chief Commissioner of the Scout Association and Fergus Collins, Editor of BBC Countryfile Magazine.

David Bond, Marketing Director for Nature and star of the recent Project Wild Thing[8] film, said:

“Making Project Wild Thing I met a huge number of people who were passionate about getting kids back out into the wild and instilling in them their own love of nature.

“Octavia Hill was a passionate believer in creating green spaces for all – particularly children.  It is in her spirit that these awards recognise the talent and passion of those inspiring the next generation of nature lovers.”

Wayne Bulpitt, UK Chief Commissioner of The Scout Association[9] said:

“I first developed a love for the outdoors as a Cub Scout.  It was a cub leader – a volunteer – who took me camping in the forest and taught me to name different trees.  These opportunities increased as I grew up through the Scout sections.

“There are 35,000 young people on waiting lists for Beaver, Cub and Scout groups.  The demand is there.  Young people want to try scouting.  It’s the lack of adult volunteers that’s holding them back.

“If we are serious about connecting children with nature we need to celebrate and encourage the volunteers who give many young people their first taste of the outdoors.”

Stephen Trotter, The Wildlife Trusts’ Director, England[10], said:

“Tens of thousands of children have fun exploring wild places with The Wildlife Trusts every year - whether on their own, with family, friends or with their school.  There's an amazing network of more than 1,000 local volunteers, over 300 Wildlife Trust staff and hundreds of forest schools enthusiasts all dedicated to providing the practical opportunities for children to get hands-on and closer to nature.

“Inspirational is sometimes an over-used word but not in this case - we see so many emotional and moving experiences of where nature inspires children and changes their life for the better - not just as a one-off but for a lifetime.

“The Octavia Hill Awards are a fabulous opportunity to recognise some of these wonderful selfless people who help to make it happen.”

Fergus Collins, Editor of BBC Countryfile Magazine, commented:

“We are delighted to be a part of these awards, which recognise the hard work of communities and individuals who do so much to reconnect children in the UK with nature.

“Children who regularly experience nature are more likely to care about the environment as adults.  Without the efforts of these volunteers, professionals and groups, we won’t inspire the next generation of conservationists, outdoor-enthusiasts and passionate environmentalists.”

The closing date for submitting nominations for the awards is 31 May 2014.  More information about how you can nominate people or organisations can be found on the BBC Countryilfe magazine website.

Join the conversation online using the hashtags #octaviahill and #wildtime.

An online poll in late June will decide the winners, who will be announced in the September issue of BBC Countryfile Magazine.

Notes to Editors

[1] The Wild Network was launched on 25 September 2013. 1,000 organisations, large and small, and thousands of individuals, have come together to create a movement whose aim is to reconnect kids with nature and the outdoors.  It  is for everyone who wants kids to roam free, play wild and connect with nature.  Details on how to get involved can be found here, with a list of the organisations involved here.

[2] Whether you live in the countryside or the middle of a city, BBC Countryfile Magazine aims to bring the reality of country living into your home.  Each issue is a celebration of rural life, offering practical advice on how to enjoy the British countryside, highlighting areas to explore and discover, and displaying the countryside’s breadth and variety. For further information, visit its website

[3] Details of the research findings and methodology from the RSPB and the University of Essex research, published in October 2013, can be found here

[4]Time playing outside during the week and at weekends has halved in one generation and children are more inclined to stay indoors and watch television, play computer games and even do their homework, than go outside to play, (JCB Kids Fresh Air Campaign, 2013) and fewer than one in 10 children regularly play in wild spaces, versus about half a generation ago,

[5] Nine in 10 children could identify a Dalek.  Two thirds could identify a magpie, “Wildlife alien to indoor children”, National Trust, 2008, 

[6] More information about the life and legacy of Octavia Hill can be found here

[7] There are four categories in the 2014 Octavia Hill Awards:

  • Volunteer – for an exceptional volunteer who has devoted their energy and free time to inspiring young people with their love for nature and the outdoors.
  • Professional – a dedicated professional who spends their working life sparking young people’s enthusiasm in the natural environment.
  • Group – this award is for a group or organisation, big or small, that is working to connect children and young people with nature and outdoor places.

The full terms and conditions about the Awards can be found here

[8] Project Wild Thing is a film and campaign highlighting kids’ disconnection from the wild, supported by The Wild Network.  Created by Green Lions and BRITDOC, the feature documentary was released in 80 cinemas nationwide on 25 October.  It is available on DVD and Video on Demand. Organisations and individuals can also apply to put on community screenings of the film. Details of how to see the film are here.

[9] The Scout Association is the UK’s largest co-educational youth movement, offering life changing opportunities and adventure to over 435,000 boys and girls. 

[10] There are 47 individual Wildlife Trusts covering the whole of the UK.  All are working for an environment rich in wildlife for everyone. We have more than 800,000 members including 150,000 members of our junior branch Wildlife Watch. Watch encourages and nurtures young people’s interest in wildlife and the environment by creating learning opportunities, and inspiring personal participation and celebration.  We support a network of adult volunteers working with young people, including running groups, and a large number of subscribing schools and educators. Wildlife Watch groups are run by teams of adult volunteers supported by their local Wildlife Trust.  Groups encourage member contribution at all levels and operate according to guidelines designed to ensure young members can enjoy experiencing their natural world whilst remaining safe from harm.

Tagged with: Volunteering