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Children and nature

Survey reveals inequalities around children spending time outside during the pandemic
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
Children and nature

Natural England’s ‘People and Nature Survey (children)’ has revealed clear inequalities for children engaging with nature, with 71% of children from ethnic minority backgrounds reporting spending less time outside since coronavirus compared with 57% of white children.

In addition, almost three-quarters (73%) of children from households with a total annual income below £17,000 spent less time outdoors, compared with 57% from households with an annual income above £17,000.

Lack of access to nature

Six in 10 children report having spent less time outdoors since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, with concern about catching or spreading coronavirus the biggest barrier stopping them going out more.

The positive role of nature in supporting wellbeing has also been revealed, with eight in 10 children agreeing that being in nature made them very happy. 70% said that they want to spend more time outdoors with friends post-pandemic.

‘Every child has a right to meaningful and enjoyable time in nature and the countryside. But today’s results from Natural England show that deep inequalities exist in who is benefiting from the many health and wellbeing benefits of being in nature.

‘It is unacceptable that children who are black, Asian or from another ethnic minority are 20% less likely to visit the countryside, and that a similarly shocking lack of access exists for children from lower income families.

‘That’s why we’re calling on the government to build meaningful time outdoors into the education system, so that every child has the opportunity to form a lifelong connection to our countryside. Ministers can make a start by investing in proven tried-and-tested community outreach projects and guarantee every child a night in nature in our National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.’

Chief executive of CPRE, the countryside charity

These findings build on Natural England’s latest People and Nature Survey, which reveal that the nation’s gardens, parks, woodlands and rivers have played a huge part in helping with their mental health during the coronavirus pandemic. Almost nine in 10 adults in England report that being in nature makes them very happy.

Nature ‘essential’ to wellbeing

The joint DfE, Natural England and Defra ‘Children and Nature programme’ is already working with children from disadvantaged backgrounds to provide better access to natural environments, to improve mental health and wellbeing and engagement with school.

Three independent projects are providing greener grounds and pupil visits to green spaces for schools with the highest proportion of disadvantaged pupils.

Care farming services (the therapeutic use of farming practices) for children and adults facing disadvantage or social exclusion are being scaled up, and the delivery of community forest and woodland outreach activities is being expanded, particularly for school children in disadvantaged areas.

‘Children are telling us just how important time in nature is to their happiness and this backs up a strong weight of scientific evidence showing how essential nature is to all of our physical health and our mental wellbeing. Today’s figures paint a stark picture of inequality of access to nature with children from our poorest families and those from ethnic minority backgrounds least likely to be able to enjoy those wellbeing benefits.

‘Addressing these inequalities must be a central part of a green recovery from the coronavirus. Natural England is committed to playing our part in making that happen, and our work on green infrastructure standards and pilots will increase the amount of nature-rich places close to where children live and play as part of a thriving nature recovery network. We are also working with partners to embed the use of green social prescribing to improve mental health and wellbeing for all.’

Chief executive of Natural England

Connecting with green spaces

The completion of the England Coast Path will offer families increased opportunities to enjoy England’s fantastic coastline and the health and wellbeing benefits that brings, and the Countryside Code refresh will be a major vehicle to help children feel safe and enjoy the countryside.

The Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan has set out how all parts of society should be connected with green spaces to improve health and wellbeing.

Natural England is working with Defra and other partners to deliver the plan’s commitment for more good quality green space that provides benefits for health, nature, climate and prosperity, in particular for disadvantaged urban communities, and to help the country recover from coronavirus by ensuring green space is available to all.

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