Scottish kids more connected with nature

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Children in Scotland have a stronger than average connection with nature according to a new study. But we shouldn’t rest on our laurels.

I am delighted to hear that so many of Scottish kids appear to have a good connection with nature. The results of a three-year research project, undertaken by the RSPB and the University of Essex, give Scottish kids a ‘score’ of 27% which is six per cent above the average across the UK.

But wouldn’t it be even better if these figures – for both Scotland and the rest of the UK – were much, much higher?

Results of ‘connection to nature’ study

Researchers created a framework of four key descriptions of children’s feelings towards nature so that they could try and measure their level of connection to nature. The 1200 children aged eight to 12 were then given questionnaires designed to assess:

  • Enjoyment of nature
  • Empathy for creatures
  • Sense of oneness with nature
  • Sense of responsibility for the environment.

It was discovered that 27% of Scottish children display a good connection with nature, compared to an average of 21% for the UK as a whole.

The study also highlighted statistically significant differences in children’s connection to nature between girls and boys and British urban and rural homes.

Some 27% of girls, compered to 16% of boys display a great connectivity to nature.

Urban areas versus rural areas on “nature connectivity” showed 20% compared to 21% respectively across the UK. The country with the least connectivity was Wales.

Why study kids and nature?

The report has been produced as a result of growing concerns over generations of children who have little or no contact with the natural world and wildlife. This is something that the nature conservation charity, the RSPB, considers to be one of the biggest threats to UK nature.

The RSPB is now calling for further research in Scotland to establish a baseline for measuring connection with nature year-on-year.

Rebekah Stackhouse, Education and Youth Programmes Manager for RSPB Scotland, said: “This report is ground-breaking. 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 across the whole of the UK, which means the problem hasn’t been given the attention it deserves.

“It’s important we work in partnership in Scotland to take these initial findings and continue to develop a baseline specific to our country that we can measure against year-on-year and track progress.

“The Scottish Government has shown leadership in supporting outdoor learning in schools, and in supporting the establishment of Learning for Sustainability Scotland, but it is clear that more must be done on all levels to ensure our children share a love of the natural world and desire to protect it.”

The benefits of nature for kids

Being outdoors and playing or interacting with out natural world has many benefits, including positive impacts on education, physical health, emotional wellbeing and personal and social skills.

You only have to think about how children learn when they are climbing trees, going on bug and beastie hunts, foraging for fungi or flying kites. If kids are outdoors and enjoying time together, such as building dens, they also benefit from learning vital team-building and communication skills.

More opportunities for outdoors play

A number of major organisations have been calling for more “traditional outdoors” play and strategies to encourage children to go outdoors. This summer, the chief executive of the British Heart Foundation called for a return to the “traditional outdoors childhood”.

The Wild Network, a collaboration between organisations across the UK, also aims to let kids get back their “wild time” and reverse the trend of children losing touch with the natural world and playing outdoors.

The goal of the Wild Network is to build a movement of children, parents, teachers, grassroots organisations, charities, government and businesses that will work together to break down the barriers that stop kids getting outside.

The first initiative, launching on October 27, is a feature-length documentary film Project Wild Thing that will be shown at Picturehouse cinemas across the UK. The powerful and ambitious film takes a look at a father’s emotional journey through the complex issue of connecting children and nature. See www.projectwildthing.com

Help your own kids to explore outdoors

While many parents worry about the safety of outdoors play for children, why not go out with them? Alternatively, you could sign your children up to a range of nature clubs or session s at weekends and in the school holidays.

10 ways to explore nature for free:

1)    Collect bark rubbings of five different trees

2)    Collect fallen autumnal leaves and create a collage at home

3)    Check out the events taking place on the RSPB website or the Scottish Wildlife Trust

4)    Go outdoors in the rain, dressed in waterproofs and wellies and jump into as many puddles as you can find.

5)    Let kids become a Nature Detective with the Woodlands Trust

6)    Walk to the top of a hill and enjoy a hilltop picnic

7)    Run across a beach while flying a kite

8)    Cycle a lochside, such as the West Loch Lomond Cycle Path

9)    Identify five birds in your back garden

10)    Go conker collecting and enjoy family fun with a conker fight.

Tell us about the ways that you could help your kids to connect with nature on a more regular basis.



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