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Children 'detached from nature'

PUBLISHED: 17:03 04 April 2009 | UPDATED: 08:31 28 March 2014

APRIL 4, 2009: Woodlands, countryside and parks have become out of bounds to a generation of ‘cotton wool kids’ with fewer than ten per cent playing in such places, according to new research results revealed today by Natural England.

In addition, less than a quarter (24%) of children said they visit a patch of nature near their home on a weekly basis, compared with over half of adults (53%) who visited a local nature patch weekly when they were young.

The survey was produced to mark the launch of Natural England’s ‘One Million Children Outdoors’ programme, which aims to encourage more children to visit places such as nature reserves and environmentally friendly farms.

The survey also revealed that nature-based activities, such as pond dipping, climbing trees and playing conkers are enjoyed by children when they can take part and that 81 percent of children wanted more freedom to play outdoors. 85 percent of adults agreed that they would like children to play outdoors more often, but cited road safety and concern about strangers as reasons for not giving them more freedom.

Paul Christensen, acting Chair for Natural England, said: “Children are being denied the fundamental sense of independence and freedom in nature that their parents enjoyed. Our research shows that contact with nature has halved in a generation, and that the overwhelming majority of children now want more opportunities to play outdoors.

“Whether through pond dipping or tree climbing, nature-based activities can play an important role in the educational and social development of children. Society must question its priorities in providing safe open spaces for play - the money spent on parks and trees in this country is a fraction of that spent on the roads that cause parents safety concerns.”

The One Million Children Outdoors programme was launched at the Natural History Museum's wildlife garden, together with a new family guide to British wildlife, The Bumper Book of Nature.

Author Stephen Moss said: “Concerns over child safety are understandable, but if children can’t get out and explore the natural world, we run the risk of raising a generation of ‘cotton wool kids’ whose experiences are defined by websites and computer games. The Bumper Book of Nature gives families the simple and cheap ideas to explore the real world”

Speaking at the launch event, naturalist and television presenter Chris Packham said: "If a generation becomes detached from the natural world, it is in danger of becoming indifferent and whilst some skills are learnt in the classroom, others only come from being knee deep in mud and elbow deep in frog spawn. It is these early years of inspiration that set in motion a life time passion; today's young explorers are tomorrow's naturalist and biologists – if they don’t learn how it works how will they look after it for the future?"

The One Million Children Outdoors programme aims to introduce a million children to the natural world over the next three years. In its first year, the programme, aims to:

Double the number of farm visits by school-aged children to 100,000, funded through green farming schemes

Double the number of children participating in educational visits on National Nature Reserves to 60,000

Launch a new interactive website for children and families designed around a wildlife gardening accreditation scheme

Deliver an innovative, nationwide Undersea Landscape Campaign promoting marine conservation to 50,000 children

Support projects funded through the £23 million Access to Nature grant scheme that aim to connect children, particularly from deprived urban communities, with the natural world.

Poul Christensen concluded: “At a time when an appreciation of environmental challenges has never been more important, we need a step change in reversing the damaging trends of recent years whereby children have been denied the chance to play freely outdoors.

“The natural environment is there to be explored by children, it is their right. The memories they collect from it stay with them as adults and inspire them to pass on a healthy environment for future generations".

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