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Nature and the UK’s mental health crisis

Largest project of its kind boosts young people’s mental wellbeing, confidence and career aspirations
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
Young woman gently touching grass in a field at sunset

A groundbreaking new report from Our Bright Future – a £33 million youth empowerment partnership led by The Wildlife Trusts and funded by The National Lottery Community Fund – highlights the overwhelmingly positive effects of nature on young people and their communities.

The report reveals that learning about nature conservation and environmental issues has a profound effect on young people’s health and wellbeing.

Spending time in nature

Our Bright Future worked with over 128,000 young people across 31 different projects running from 2016 to 2021, helping them develop skills and experience to become the environmental leaders of the future.

As the seven-year project draws to a close, today’s publication reveals that young people were consistently more confident, skilled, happier and better able to find work after participating in the programme and spending time in nature.

95% of participants felt their confidence had improved, 86% said taking part improved their mental health and 81% felt confident they could make a positive difference to the environment.

‘The project gave me a chance to start a career in a sector that I had always been passionate about. Having spent 19 of 24 months unemployed since leaving college, jumping from job to job, this is something that I never thought would have happened.

‘The project opened my eyes massively to the environment around me and what I could do/help others do that would make it a better place for wildlife and people.’

Project participant, who became involved in the One Planet Pioneers project in Middlesbrough when he was 19

The mental health challenge

The report comes on the heels of mounting evidence that young people in the UK are struggling with their mental health.

Research carried out earlier this year by Place2Be and the National Association of Headteachers revealed that mental health problems among pupils had increased between September 2021 and February 2022, including low self-esteem (86%), depression (76%) and constant feelings of anger (68%).

The Our Bright Future report outlines significant outcomes for young people who participated in the project, including improved mental health and wellbeing; increased self-esteem and self-confidence; new skills, knowledge and qualifications and increased employability and aspirations for work and learning.

‘This report proves just how important it is to give young people practical experience to learn about nature, climate, and wider environmental issues. Our natural world is the bedrock of our society, but it is under serious pressure. We need to foster a new generation of green leaders to find solutions to the biggest environmental challenges of our time.

‘The success of Our Bright Future shows what can be achieved when people and organisations work together.’

Chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts

Empowered to act for nature

The report reveals that Our Bright Future has enabled almost 9,000 young people to gain qualifications, over 1,600 to enter apprenticeships and more than 200 young entrepreneurs to start a business or social enterprise.

The project also had an impact on career ambitions, with 40% of alumni surveyed stating that participation in Our Bright Future influenced them to pursue an environmental career.

Overall, almost two-thirds (65%) of participants surveyed said that taking part in Our Bright Future had considerably increased their appreciation of the natural world, with 63% saying that their belief that they can make a difference to their local environment had similarly increased.

‘The findings laid out in the Our Bright Future report cement what so many of us know already: that access to nature has a profound effect not only on young people’s environmental awareness but also on their physical and mental wellbeing. It’s so encouraging to see that thousands of young people have been empowered to act for nature and their communities – all while building confidence and skills to help them reach their goals. I hope others recognise that there is a huge appetite amongst young people to work towards a better future for us all.’

Wildlife Trusts ambassador and founder of Black2Nature

Yorkshire Youth in Nature

Our Bright Future has provided huge benefits for nature and communities, improving over 3,000 community spaces and creating over 350 nature-rich areas for people and wildlife across the UK.

Young people involved in Youth in Nature, an Our Bright Future project led by Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, improved 29 wildlife zones, including a community garden at a church in Hull.

Previously blighted by litter, vandalism and anti-social behaviour, the garden was transformed and local people have continued to nurture the space.

In addition to creating an area that the local community could be proud of, the project promoted community cohesion and has improved residents’ perceptions of young people.

Three asks for policymakers

During the Our Bright Future programme, hundreds of young people worked together to articulate key changes they would like to see for themselves and the environment, developing ‘Three Asks’ around the following themes:

1.       More time spent learning in and about nature
2.       Support to get into environmental jobs
3.       Policymakers, employers, businesses, schools and charities to pay more attention to the needs of young people and the environment

The Wildlife Trusts hopes that the results of Our Bright Future – and the asks from its young participants – will influence policy around environmental education and access to nature, so that more and more young people can experience the benefits of similar projects.

Young people who have participated in Our Bright Future report that they feel empowered to use the skills and experiences they have gained from the project to create a positive legacy for the environment.

‘We’re incredibly proud to have supported Our Bright Future’s impactful work over the past seven years. Thanks to National Lottery players, this has improved thousands of environmental community spaces across the UK and empowered thousands of young people to thrive, by learning new skills and boosting their employment prospects for the future.’

Wales Director at The National Lottery Community Fund

The National Lottery Community Fund supports people and communities to prosper and thrive. It distributes money raised by National Lottery players, who raise over £30 million each week for good causes across the UK.

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