A new National Trust report has found that evidence of a long-term and dramatic decline in children's relationship with the outdoors is 'overwhelming' and urgent action is needed to bridge this growing gap before it's too late.
In his Natural Childhood report* naturalist, author and TV producer Stephen Moss charts years of academic research and a steady stream of surveys on the subject, highlighting how a generation of children is finally losing touch with the natural world.
The report outlines a clear need to tackle the rise of 'Nature Deficit Disorder', a term coined by the US based writer Richard Louv, to describe a growing dislocation between children and nature**.
Report author Stephen Moss, said: "We all know the benefits being outdoors can bring, and as parents we want our children to spend more time outdoors than they do.
"But despite this overwhelming evidence and the different initiatives and schemes run by organisations across the UK, our kids are spending less and less time in the outdoors.
"The time to act is now, whilst we still have a generation of parents and grandparents who grew up outdoors and can pass on their experience and whilst there remains a determination to do something positive in this area."
A two-month inquiry, facilitated by the National Trust, will take evidence from leading experts and the public to look at how we can reconnect this and future generations of children with the natural world.
The National Trust is working alongside Arla, the NHS Sustainable Development Unit and film-makers Green Lions, to organise a summit this summer to bring together a range of experts to develop a roadmap for reconnecting children and nature.
Fiona Reynolds, Director-General of the National Trust, said: "Getting outdoors and closer to nature has all sorts of benefits for our children. It keeps them fit, they can learn about the world around them and, most of all, it's fun.
"That's why it's so worrying that so many children today don't have the opportunity to experience the outdoors and nature. Building a den, picking flowers, climbing trees - the outdoors is a treasure trove, rich in imagination. It brings huge benefits that we believe every child should have the opportunity to experience and there are huge costs when they don't."
During the last decade conservation groups, academics, social and health professionals and the media have charted the rise of so-called 'cotton-wool kids' and countless examples of what is going wrong.
Authority figures and layers of bureaucracy have combined in a climate of 'don’t do that' to create an environment where fewer children play in the outdoors. This has led to a situation where kids having fun in the outdoors are painted as showing signs of anti-social behaviour.
The research shows that capturing children before they enter the teenage years is crucial with the research clearly showing if kids get hooked before they reach twelve years old, they will develop a lifelong passion for the environment and outdoors activities***.
* 'Natural Childhood' is available to download for free from www.nationaltrust.org.uk or www.outdoornation.org.uk. Copies can also be emailed on request by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org. The report was written by naturalist, writer and broadcaster Stephen Moss
** Richard Louv's book 'Last Child in the Wood' coined the term Nature Deficit Disorder.
*** Play England (2008), quoted in The Observer 3rd August 2008.
About The National Trust:
The National Trust looks after more than 250,000 hectares of countryside, 710 miles of coastline and hundreds of historic places across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. For more information and ideas for great value family days out go to: www.nationaltrust.org.uk.
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