Imagine if every schoolchild could spend a night under the stars. That’s the vision of a new report on England’s national landscapes, which suggests a need to reconnect with nature and inspire future generations about the value of the natural world.
By taking children on regular visits to national parks and the wider countryside, giving every child the chance to stay overnight, we could foster greater understanding of the environment and the importance of biodiversity, the study finds.
As technology and social shifts change the relationship between people and the countryside, the review, which was commissioned by the UK's Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, found:
- 13% of children under 16 don’t spend any of their leisure time outdoors
- Only 6-7% of children go on school visits to the countryside
- 18% of children living in the most deprived areas never visit the natural environment.
Gathering data from around England, the authors of the report discovered how society is increasingly unconnected with the countryside, with the director of one outdoor programme speaking about children “crawling on their hands and knees up hills during a forest walk, as they had not encountered such terrain before.”
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Every year, The Wildlife Trusts in the UK runs a “30 Days Wild” campaign, encouraging people to immerse themselves in nature for one month and participate in activities like birdwatching, stargazing, tree climbing and bug hunting.
Those who were typically less connected to nature received the most benefit from engaging with it over the course of the month, research found, with participants writing about how being in nature rekindled childhood emotions.
How does the World Economic Forum encourage biological diversity?
In the last 100 years, more than 90 percent of crop varieties have disappeared from farmers’ fields, and all of the world’s 17 main fishing grounds are now being fished at or above their sustainable limits.
These trends have reduced diversity in our diets, which is directly linked to diseases or health risk factors, such as diabetes, obesity and malnutrition.
One initiative which is bringing a renewed focus on biological diversity is the Tropical Forest Alliance.
This global public-private partnership is working on removing deforestation from four global commodity supply chains – palm oil, beef, soy, and pulp and paper.
The Alliance includes businesses, governments, civil society, indigenous people and communities, and international organizations.
Enquire to become a member or partner of the Forum and help stop deforestation linked to supply chains.
The benefits of connecting with nature for children have been widely documented: being out in the wild reduces stress levels, improves sleep and boosts critical thinking ability.
The Outdoor Outreach programme in California runs activities for young people who may not otherwise have the chance to experience outdoor recreation or learn about the environment – taking them surfing and rock climbing and teaching them about trail maintenance and native species planting. And 96% of participants see an improvement in their relationships and their ability to set and achieve goals after their wilderness adventures.
Global initiatives such as World Parks Week underline the value of green space and bringing people into contact with nature, even in urban settings. It also provides opportunities for parks services professionals to learn from one another about best practices in management of protected spaces.
Bringing people closer to the great outdoors can benefit nature, too. In the UK, the Landscapes Review has also proposed the introduction of a National Landscape Service for more unified management of the country's 10 national parks and 34 areas of outstanding natural beauty, with park rangers to help engage the public.
With around a million plant and animal species now threatened with extinction, understanding and preserving biodiversity in every landscape is more important than ever.