Over 40 organisations, teachers, MPs and three quarters of the public have backed a campaign to improve children’s mental health with better access to nature.
Successive lockdowns, social isolation and increased use of social media is driving a mental health crisis among children but regular time in nature can help tackle these issues, according to the Nature Premium campaign.
The campaign, which came out of conversations led by the Forest School Association, wants the government to fund better access to nature for children, particularly those in urban or disadvantaged areas, to be spent on things like tree growing, community gardening, walks in nature, and ‘forest school’.
Its proposals have been backed by the public after a survey found that 74 per cent of 2,000 participants felt that greater access to nature is important for children’s physical and mental wellbeing.
Two thirds of those asked also thought that giving children a closer relationship with the outdoors could encourage them to lead sustainable lives when they are older.
“The fact that mental health for adults and children improves in nature is well documented,” said headteacher Bridget Knight, from Eardisley primary school in Herefordshire. “It is also well known that increasingly as a society we are remote from and disengaged from nature. So, a big refocus and spotlight on nature-led learning is a good thing.”
It comes after a recent government report revealed a deepening mental health crisis among children due to the lockdown, while The Children’s Society reported that young people are 50 per cent more likely to suffer from a mental health issues.
Spending time in nature could be part of the solution, as research from Natural England found that 83 per cent of children were happier after spending time in natural environments and the Mental Health Foundation found that a close relationship with nature is strongly linked to wellbeing.
The campaign also emphasises that more funding should be provided for schools with less access to nature, to reduce the stark inequalities of schools in urban and deprived areas.
“There is a clear disparity in access to nature for children and young people in the UK, which has only been made worse by lockdown,” said primary school teacher, Edd Moore. “The government must ensure all children have equal opportunities to get into nature, regardless of where their school is, where they live, or their family’s income.”
Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said: “There is a real danger that many of the next generation will grow up unable to recognise the wildlife on our doorsteps until it is gone. So there is no doubt in my mind that a Nature Premium, and ensuring the next generation grows up knowing, understanding and loving the natural world, is vital.”
It’s not the only campaign to improve children’s access to nature; schools in Cardiff will see ‘edible playgrounds’ installed as part of a city-wide scheme to boost a connection to healthy eating and nature.