Every Child Wild: Making nature part of growing up - for all children

Wednesday 4th November 2015

Image credit Matthew Roberts

The Wildlife Trusts launch new initiative to make ‘Every Child Wild’.

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 

Evidence has been growing for a number of years pointing to the array of health and social benefits to be derived from contact with the natural world for all ages1.  However, results from a new YouGov poll, commissioned by The Wildlife Trusts, highlight the discrepancy between what parents think is best for children and what they actually experience.  

The Wildlife Trusts, who reach around half a million children each year through their junior membership and work with schools, are concerned about a loss of contact with wildlife during childhood. Despite the fundamental importance of nature to childhood the signs are that a generation of children is growing up at arm’s-length from the natural world. Children’s freedom to roam and time spent outdoors has shrunk disconnected from natureand with it their opportunities to discover wildlife, with just one in ten ever playing in wild places.  

Our new poll shows that:

  • 91% of parents of children aged 18 and under think that having access to nature and wildlife is important for children, yet
  • 78% of parents are concerned that children don’t spend enough time interacting with nature and 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.”

However, a generation of children is growing up disconnected from nature, with just one in ten ever playing in wild places2.  The Wildlife Trusts reach around half a million children each year, many with outdoor experiences through their school, but we are concerned that many more children are not getting the chance to get close to wildlife.

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:
  • Less than half (46%) of children aged 8-15 had looked for wild flowers with their parent/ guardian or grandparent with even fewer (42%) listening for birdsong together
  • 71% of children have never seen a lizard in the wild in the UK, more than half (53%) have never seen a flock of starlings and more than a third (37%) have never seen a hedgehog.
  • But there were some positive signs – 95% of children had visited a park with a parent or guardian, showing the importance of everyday places for experiencing wildlife.

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

  • Although more than half of the children polled (56%) have learned about wildlife in the classroom in the last six months, under a quarter (24%) said their school has an indoor nature display area, like a nature table, and
  • Only 50% of children said their school had an outdoor nature area and less than half (46%) of the children said they had been to a place in the wild with their school to learn about wildlife in the past year

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 .

Every Child Wild offers top practical tips for successful family adventures, inspiration from young people with a passion for nature and much more, including:

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 

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. 

Notes for editors:

1Health and social benefits derived from contact with the natural world for all ages.  Experiencing nature in the short- and long-term has a significant impact upon heart rate and blood pressure (Pretty, 2005) up to 90% of the human requirement for vitamin D comes from the sun (Hollick, 2004).  Nature makes us healthier; improves our mood; and increases our self-esteem (Barton & Pretty, 2010).  Wells (2000) demonstrated that when low-income urban families were relocated to houses with nature nearby they had higher levels of cognitive functioning and a greater ability to direct their attention.  

On the whole, children with easy access to nature are more able to cope with stressful life than those in urban habitats lacking green space (Wells, 2003).  

In urban neighbourhoods, communities with access to more natural environments tend to function better; using data from over 10,000 people, White et al. (2013) found that on average both lower mental distress and higher wellbeing were linked with living in urban areas that possessed more green areas.  

People living near quality green space were twice as likely to report low psychological distress as those living near low quality open spaces (Maller, 2002; Nisbet, 2011).  Access to nature can also aid recovery from illness (Kaplan, 2001; Maller, 2006).  Arguably, if every household in England were provided with good access to quality green space, it could save an estimated £2.1 billion in healthcare costs (Natural England, 2009).  In 2009, Natural England postulated that for every £1 spent on establishing healthy walking schemes the NHS could save £7.18 from the cost of treating conditions such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

Children lack life-enhancing contact with nature
In the last four generations, children have become increasingly, arguably dangerously, disconnected from nature.  The rise of ‘screen time’ (in Britain 11–15-year-olds spend 7.5 hours a day in front of a screen[i]) and the increase in the amount of time children spend indoors go hand-in-hand with a fear of strangers and a rise in traffic.  Motor vehicle traffic in Great Britain increased by 2.4% between 2013 and 2014 - the largest increase since 2002.[ii]  Since the 1970s, how far children can explore unsupervised has declined by 90%.[iii] More shocking to many parents who grew up rampaging unsupervised around the country are how children seem to be missing out on simple childhood pleasures: a quarter of children have never built a sandcastle and a third of children have never climbed a tree.

The poll
All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 4,224 adults, of which 1,070 were parents of children aged 18 or under. Fieldwork was undertaken between 16-20 Oct 2015. The survey was carried out online.  The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+). Total sample size was 1,082 children.  Fieldwork was undertaken between 16 - 20 October 2015.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB children (aged 8-15).  A full set of poll results are available on The Wildlife Trusts’ website at www.wildlifetrusts.org/everychildwild

Time outdoors & importance of time outdoors

  • Only 10% of parents of children aged 18 and under think their child spends more time outdoors than they did when they were a child
  • 91% of parents think that having access to nature and wildlife is important for children in general
  • 78% were concerned that children don't spend enough time interacting with nature and wildlife

Wildlife experiences

  • Over a quarter (27%) of children aged 8-15 had never played outside by themselves – and 37% hadn’t done this in the past six months
  • Over half (57%) have never found frogspawn in a pond in the wild in the UK
  • 71% have never seen a lizard in the wild in the UK
  • 60% have never seen a peacock butterfly in the UK
  • 53% have never seen a flock of starlings in the UK
  • 37% had never seen a hedgehog in the UK
  • Less than half (46%) of the children said they had been to a place in the wild with their school to learn about wildlife in the past year
  • Only 46% of children had looked for wildflowers with a parent/guardian or grandparent and only 42% had listened for birdsong with a parent/guardian or grandparent
  • 35% of children hadn’t ever turned over a log or stone to look for insects with a parent/guardian or grandparent

Schools

  • Only 50% of children said their school had an outdoor nature area
  • Only 24% said their school had an indoor nature display area like a nature table

Positive messages

  • 95% of children had been to a park with a parent/guardian or grandparent
  • 82% had held a ladybird in their hand

Every Child Wild – reconnecting children with nature
Every Child Wild is part of The Wildlife Trusts’ wider My Wild Life campaign to communicate what nature means to people and its value to society. It aims to highlight both how disconnected UK children are from nature, and work The Wildlife Trusts are doing to reverse this.

Wildlife Watch
The Wildlife Trusts are the UK’s largest provider of children’s nature clubs overseeing more than 240 regular clubs: there are over 3,000 visits to our Wildlife Watch groups every year, totalling over 10,000 children. We employ over 400 members of staff to deliver our education work, helped by around 1,500 volunteers.

Wildlife Watch is the junior branch of The Wildlife Trusts and the UK’s leading environmental action club for kids. There are 150,000 Wildlife Watch members around the UK (and the Isle of Man and Alderney too) and hundreds of local Watch groups where young people get stuck into environmental activities. Wildlife Watch members receive an exciting membership pack. Click here to take a closer look at what Wildlife Watch members get. We also have a wild website and a monthly e-newsletter full of wild ideas and nature-spotting tips.  

The Wildlife Trusts
Helping children to experience and learn about nature has been at the heart of what The Wildlife Trusts do for more than 50 years. Each year The Wildlife Trusts run approximately 11,000 events across the UK, inviting families to have fun outdoors and get up close to wildlife. By bringing families together in activities we make it easy for everyone to get that daily dose of nature, and inspire parents to make room for wildlife in their children’s lives more regularly.

The Wildlife Trusts are the UK’s largest provider of children’s nature clubs overseeing more than 240. We run Nature Tots sessions, a Forest School programme developed for pre-school age children, providing a wonderful opportunity to experience and learn from nature. The sessions encourage independent learning and team work, problem solving, physical development and creativity. This is child-led learning and the role of accompanying adults is to help children to undertake as much of the task at hand as possible. The Wildlife Trusts also reach huge numbers of children through working with primary and secondary schools, providing resources for teachers to use in their own teaching. We host hundreds of school visits on nature reserves and deliver a range of activities www.wildlifetrusts.org/discovery

We love wild play. We’ve got sand pits, mud kitchens, outdoor gyms and even hire-able nature packs at many of our nature reserves to encourage young minds to explore, create and discover. Have fun and learn at our nature reserves where it’s always okay to play! Discover great places for enjoying family fun at www.wildlifetrusts.org/familyfun

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. Our vision is to create A Living Landscape and secure Living Seas. We manage around 2,300 nature reserves and every year we advise thousands of landowners and organisations on how to manage their land for wildlife. We also run marine conservation projects around the UK, collecting vital data on the state of our seas and celebrating our amazing marine wildlife. Every year we work with thousands of schools and our nature reserves and visitor centres receive millions of visitors. Each Wildlife Trust is working within its local communities to inspire people about the future of their area: their own Living Landscapes and Living Seas. 

Image credit: Matthew Roberts

Tagged with: Outdoor learning