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Are children suffering from a “nature-deficit”? ~ by Angus

Are children suffering from a "nature-deficit"?

This is the central question in Richard Louv's book, "Last child in the woods," and this concern is shared by the broadcaster Sir David Attenborough.  As Attenborough says, "all children start off being interested in the natural world, it's deep in our instincts...".    Children may have theoretical knowledge but not touchy-feely experience. As Louv explains, " children today are aware of global threats to the environment but their physical contact, their intimacy, with nature is fading."

Nature-deficit surveys
Natural England did a survey recently in which they examined changing relationships with nature across generations and they found that fewer then 10% of children now play in natural places (such as woodlands and heathlands) compared with 40% of today's adults who did so when they were young.  The BBC Wildlife Magazine carried out another survey which found that many children now cannot identify common species such as bluebells and frogs. Other surveys show that this is not just a British problem: the American Journal of Play, surveying thousands of mothers across the world, discovered that the number of those reporting their children "exploring nature" were lowest in China, Brazil and Indonesia.  Playing in wild areas has been shown to have a positive psychological impact - a National Trust survey of 3,000 adults revealed that their most prominent happy memories were of being outdoors in the natural world and a large number cited building dens as a particularly happy memory.

Causes of children being "stuck inside"
Computer games and TV are often blamed for children staying indoors but there are other factors - for example being driven to school rather than walking keeps children from the outdoors and the almost obsessive fear of abduction, which many parents have, often stops children being allowed outside.  It may also be that pressure to do more and more with school and outside means that there is less genuinely free time for children when they have to make their own entertainment.  At a recent woodlands.co.uk conference of owners of small woodlands it was suggested that owners should think of things for their children to do in woods, but one of the participants pointed out that once in a wood children will find their own activities and this process of discovering what's interesting and what there is to do is itself important.  Let them discover nature rather than spoon feed it to them was the message of that discussion.

What are the consequences of a "nature deficit"?
"Keeping an eye on children" is all very well but it has left a whole generation more ignorant of what goes on in the natural world and out of the habit of exploring and discovering.  This has consequences for them personally including much higher rates of obesity, suffering form attention disorders and more likely to experience depression.  In a bigger-picture way, though, it will surely have enormous consequences for their attitude towards nature when they grow up - if they haven't experienced the miracles of the world around them they will be less likely to make sacrifices to preserve woodlands and wild spaces.
But all this assumes that the nature deficit is limited to children - adults surely suffer from it too.  Many, many or our buyers of small woodlands give as driving motivation that they want to "get away from the screen" and get "back to nature".

What can be done about it?
It's hard to know how to persuade the nation as a whole to move towards more outdoor play, but individually families can choose more activities in woodlands and wild areas.  There are many structured activities which get people into woodlands such as Centre Parcs holidays and "Go Ape" walkway adventures.  Recent excitement about the Forestry Commission woodlands shows how much people value public spaces, even those who don't visit very often.  The threat of wholesale sell-offs has made everyone focus on how important woodlands are for our wellbeing, so hopefully the recent publicity will make people spend more time in open woodlands - whoever owns them!

Posted in: Woodland Activities ~ On: 3 March, 2011

7 comments so far

jason rodgers
27 December, 2013

I moved from a built up area to what I thought was paradise (a small village in wales) when I was 13 (some 30 odd years ago), what I remember as a young lad was what seemed like the whole area was teeming with wildlife, kingfishers darting up and down the river, dippers, voles, butterfly’s.

Its all gone, why? I’m not sure.

I also remember our local pond being of interest for the frogs and newts…yes newts! Again, both have disappeared.

I’ve started the ball rolling and am doing some research, I’d like to hopefully turn things around and get people interested again, I’ve started a Facebook group, asked if I can join my local council and maybe things can change.

Nick Ross
16 May, 2011

I have found that parents are looking for more “outdoor” activities for their children. With this in mind I run Adventure Birthday parties for youngsters from 7+ and incorporate the wonders and beauty to be found in the woods with a huge educational slant. Treasure hunt, nature trail looking for tree / plant varieties, scavenger hunt all round my 10 arces in Kent, in addition to have a go archery and many team building type activities. To add to this each child gets to plant their own tree and have a plaque with it. As a scout leader I also encourage the use of woodland by running Beaver, Cub and Scout badge courses.

Mike Beef farmer
16 March, 2011

Its where you live most child in towns and city are finding that heathland and woodland are being lost in the housing thats going up where I use play as a child is now a houses on the heath and the wood is now gone 10 acres is down 1 to 2 acres but likley for my children and grandchildren have all the land they can explore 1 of my children is a animal warden.

15 March, 2011

What a wonderful poem, but very sad.

14 March, 2011

‘To See the Rabbit’ by Alan Brownjohn

We are going to see the rabbit.
We are going to see the rabbit.
Which rabbit, people say?
Which rabbit , ask the children?
Which rabbit?
The only rabbit,
The only rabbit in England,
Sitting behind a barbed-wire fence
Under the floodlights, neon lights,
Sodium lights,
Nibbling grass
On the only patch of grass
In England, in England
(except the grass by the hoardings
Which doesn’t count.)
We are going to see the rabbit
And we must be there on time.

First we shall go by escalator,
Then we shall go by underground,
And then we shall go by motorway,
And then by helicopterway,
And the last 10 yards we shall have to go
On foot.

And now we are going
All the way to see the rabbit,
We are nearly there,
We are longing to see it,
And so is the crowd
Which is here in thousands
With mounted policemen
And big loudspeakers
And bands and banners,
And everyone has come a long way.

But soon we shall see it
Sitting and nibbling
The blades of grass
In – but something has gone wrong!
Why is everyone so angry,
Why is everyone jostling
And slanging and complaining?

The rabbit has gone,
Yes, the rabbit has gone.
He has actually burrowed down into the earth
And made himself a warren, under the earth,
Despite all these people,
And what shall we do?
What can we do?

It is all a pity, you must be disappointed,
Go home and do something for today,
Go home again, go home for today.
For you cannot hear the rabbit, under the earth,
Remarking rather sadly to himself, by himself,
As he rests in his warren, under the earth:
‘It won’t be long, they are bound to come,
They are bound to come and find me, even here.’

Rebecca Samuel
7 March, 2011

The loss of connection between nature and the child is one of the greatest, if not the greatest threat to mankind. We should not let it happen.

7 March, 2011

My brother is like that he is about 10 years old now and hardly ever goes outdoors he spends all his time on the computer playing games. It’s a sad situation that none of our children are playing outdoors anymore

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