Birdwatch News Archive
It's always a good idea to get your kids out into nature, like these two in the Lea Valley Park, Greater London. Photo: David Callahan.
Children gather data for nature
Posted on: 17 Oct 2012
The RSPB and University of Essex are creating the first ever database of connection to nature among British children.
The partners have developed a brand new approach to measure how connected or disconnected children are to the natural environment, coming as a result of growing concerns over generations of children with little or no contact with the natural world, which is one of the biggest long-term threats to British wildlife, the charity says.
Birdwatch has covered the official developments in concern over our childrens' lack of contact with nature in our June issue (240: 8) and the November issue, out tomorrow for subscribers and in the shops from 25 October.
The new data-gathering approach will be used with 8- to 12-year olds across the UK to create the first ever baseline of children’s connection to nature, to be announced next spring and measured again in two years time.
Mike Clarke, RSPB Chief Executive, said: "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 will empirically employ statistical methods to explore children’s empathy for creatures, responsibility for nature, enjoyment of nature experiences and sense of 'oneness' with nature. 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. The RSPB is calling for the 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 per cent over the last 30 to 40 years, despite the proven positive effects that contact with the natural world has on childrens' 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, who has been leading the work at the University of Essex, said: "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 give us the first baseline data for children in the UK."
In June 2011, the government launched the Natural Environment White Paper, which included suggestions "to strengthen the connections between people and nature". 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."
Check your own family’s level of connection to nature and find out more at www.rspb.org.uk/getoutdoors
2 3 4 >