October 16, 2013
The Great Outdoors Is Largely Avoided By British Children
Michael Harper for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
British children are largely missing out on the bounties of nature. This is the conclusion of a three-year study that set out to measure the effects of the great outdoors on today’s modern children.
According to research results, only 21 percent of eight- to 12-year-olds living in the UK have a discernible connection with nature. It’s possible that even if these children were going outside, they wouldn’t see the same plant and animal life their ancestors did.
The study, published in Connecting with Nature, found 60 percent of species native to the UK are on the decline. The researchers believe children who get outdoors and take an interest in nature would not only reap the rewards of being outside but could also help protect these declining species.
"Nature is in trouble, and children's connection to nature is closely linked to this," said Dr. Mike Clarke, the chief executive of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the group that carried out the study.
"This report is groundbreaking stuff. Millions of people are increasingly worried 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," Dr. Clarke told The Guardian's Adam Vaughan.
The RSPB study found there wasn’t only a disconnect between today’s English youth and nature, there’s also a significant gender divide in who interacts with nature. The lead researchers first had to define how much exposure to the outside world is enough and thereby developed a 16 point questionnaire to determine how “connected to nature” a child has become.
After asking 1,200 children to take part in this questionnaire, the RSPB found only 21 percent of children had a realistic connection with the world around them.
It was the girls who were surveyed who were more likely to have a relationship with nature, says the society. The study found 27 percent of the girls they interviewed had a relationship with nature they found “realistic and achievable” and otherwise acceptable. Boys, who have long been assumed to prefer the outdoors, were only 16 percent likely to have a meaningful connection with nature.
According to one member of the RSPB, however, this gender gap could be attributed to the way the questions were asked.
"We need to understand these differences," said Sue Armstrong-Brown, head of conservation in an interview with the BBC's Matt McGrath. "Whether boys and girls are scoring differently on different questions, are girls more empathetic to nature than boys for instance? We need to analyze the data to find that out."
In another somewhat surprising result, the children of London scored higher than those living outside the city in rural areas. For instance, only 13 percent of children living in Wales were found to have some exposure to nature while those living in urban areas were twice as likely to get outside.
"There is definitely an attitude out there, in some cases, that nature is not perceived as interesting or engaging. In some cases it is perceived as a dirty or unsafe thing, and that's an attitude that won't help a young person climb a tree,” said Brown.
"If we can grow a generation of children that have a connection to nature and do feel a sense of oneness with it, we then have the force for the future that can save nature and stop us living in a world where nature is declining.”