In a groundbreaking research initiative, the RSPB, with leading academics at the University of Essex, is creating the first ever baseline of connection to nature amongst UK children.
This comes as a result of growing concerns over generations of children with little or no contact with the natural world and with wildlife. Interestingly, this disconnection is seen as one of the biggest threats to nature.
This new approach will be used with 8 to 12-year olds across the UK, with the first baseline data to be announced next spring; andthen measured at two yearly intervals.
Mike Clarke, RSPB Chief Executive, says; ‘This is ground-breaking stuff. It’s widely accepted that today’s children have less contact with nature than ever before, but until now there has been no robust scientific attempt to measure and track connection to nature among children in the UK, which means the problem hasn’t been given the attention it deserves.
‘Without the opportunity and encouragement to get outdoors and connect with nature, children are missing out on so many benefits that previous generations have enjoyed; and it’s putting the future of our wildlife and natural environment at risk.’
The new approach explores children’s empathy for creatures, responsibility for nature, enjoyment of nature experiences and sense of ‘oneness’ with nature.2 The RSPB is calling for the Coalition Government to adopt this as their official indicator for whether their efforts to improve connection to nature are having an impact.
Evidence shows that the proportion of children playing out in natural spaces has dropped by as much as 75% over the last thirty to forty years. This is despite the proven positive effects that contact with the natural World has on children’s physical and mental health, personal and social development, and even academic achievements and life chances.
If the decline in connection continues, the consequences for wildlife and people could be catastrophic as children who don’t value and respect nature when they’re young are less likely to see the importance of protecting the natural environment when they’re older.
Rachel Bragg has been leading the work at the University of Essex. She says: ‘It’s vital that we understand how a child’s experience of nature influences their feelings of connection to the natural world as this will affect future behaviour towards the environment. The study we’ve developed with the RSPB will help us measure this connection and will give us the first baseline data for children in the UK.’
Mike Clarke says: ‘Children’s lack of contact with nature is a serious problem, but it isn’t an unsolvable one. If the Government, parents, schools, the RSPB, and other like-minded people and organisations all work together we can make real changes in the relationship between young people and nature, for the benefit of both.’
You can check your own family’s level of connection to nature and find out more about this project here at the RSPB website
- In September 2012, a global meeting of conservation leaders worldwide adopted a resolution recognising the importance of the “Child’s Right to Connect with Nature and to a Healthy Environment.” The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) resolution calls on government members and non-government organisations to promote and actively contribute to the international acknowledgement and codification of this right within the framework of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
- The approach is based on the Children’s Affective Attitude to Nature Scale developed by Judith Cheng and Martha Monroe and published in the journal Environment and Behavior in January 2012. It measures children’s connection to nature: their empathy for creatures, responsibility for nature, enjoyment of nature experiences and sense of ‘oneness’ with nature.
- In June 2011, the Coalition Government launched the Natural Environment White Paper, which included contains an ambition and recommendations “to strengthen the connections between people and nature.”[page 44] In July 2012, the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee recommended “that Defra set a firm target for increasing public engagement with nature, such as the percentage of children of primary school age regularly engaging in nature activities.”
Note: The image above is © RSPB