Natural England - Natural England to release one million children to the wild - Survey shows ‘outward bound’ currently out of bounds

Natural England to release one million children to the wild - Survey shows ‘outward bound’ currently out of bounds

2 April 2009

Woodlands, countryside and parks have become out of bounds to a generation of ‘cotton wool kids’ with fewer than ten percent playing in such places, according to new research results revealed today by Natural England.

In addition, less than a quarter (24%) of children said they visit a patch of nature near their home on a weekly basis, compared with over half of adults (53%) who visited a local nature patch weekly when they were young.

The survey was produced to mark the launch of Natural England’s ‘One Million Children Outdoors’ programme, which aims to encourage more children to visit places such as nature reserves and environmentally friendly farms.

The survey also revealed that nature-based activities, such as pond dipping, climbing trees and playing conkers are enjoyed by children when they can take part and that 81 percent of children wanted more freedom to play outdoors. 85 percent of adults agreed that they would like children to play outdoors more often, but cited road safety and concern about strangers as reasons for not giving them more freedom.

Poul Christensen, acting Chair for Natural England said: “Children are being denied the fundamental sense of independence and freedom in nature that their parents enjoyed. Our research shows that contact with nature has halved in a generation, and that the overwhelming majority of children now want more opportunities to play outdoors.

“Whether through pond dipping or tree climbing, nature-based activities can play an important role in the educational and social development of children. Society must question its priorities in providing safe open spaces for play - the money spent on parks and trees in this country is a fraction of that spent on the roads that cause parents safety concerns.”

The One Million Children Outdoors programme is being launched today at the Natural History Museum's wildlife garden, together with a new family guide to British wildlife, The Bumper Book of Nature.

Author Stephen Moss said: “Concerns over child safety are understandable, but if children can’t get out and explore the natural world, we run the risk of raising a generation of ‘cotton wool kids’ whose experiences are defined by websites and computer games. The Bumper Book of Nature gives families the simple and cheap ideas to explore the real world”

Speaking at the launch event, naturalist and television presenter Chris Packham said: "If a generation becomes detached from the natural world, it is in danger of becoming indifferent and whilst some skills are learnt in the classroom, others only come from being knee deep in mud and elbow deep in frog spawn. It is these early years of inspiration that set in motion a life time passion; today's young explorers are tomorrow's naturalist and biologists – if they don’t learn how it works how will they look after it for the future?"

The One Million Children Outdoors programme aims to introduce a million children to the natural world over the next three years. In its first year, the programme, aims to:

  • Double the number of farm visits by school-aged children to 100,000, funded through green farming schemes

  • Double the number of children participating in educational visits on National Nature Reserves to 60,000

  • Launch a new interactive website for children and families designed around a wildlife gardening accreditation scheme

  • Deliver an innovative, nationwide Undersea Landscape Campaign promoting marine conservation to 50,000 children

  • Support projects funded through the £23 million Access to Nature grant scheme that aim to connect children, particularly from deprived urban communities, with the natural world.

Poul Christensen concluded: “At a time when an appreciation of environmental challenges has never been more important, we need a step change in reversing the damaging trends of recent years whereby children have been denied the chance to play freely outdoors.

“The natural environment is there to be explored by children, it is their right. The memories they collect from it stay with them as adults and inspire them to pass on a healthy environment for future generations".


Notes to editors:

For further information, interviews and photographs, please contact Beth Rose at Natural England's press office on: 0300 060 1405 or 07900 608 052 or

Key findings of Natural England’s Childhood and Nature survey

  • Children spend less time playing in natural places, such as woodlands, countryside and heaths than they did in previous generations. Less than 10% play in such places compared to 40% of adults when they were young.

  • The most popular place for children to play is in their home, while for adults it was outdoors in local streets. 62 % of children said they played at home indoors more than any other place. 42 % of adults said they played outdoors in local streets more than in any other place.

  • Three quarters of adults claimed to have had a patch of nature near their homes and over half went there at least once or twice a week. 64% of children reckon they have a patch of nature near their homes but less than a quarter go there once or twice a week.

  • The favourite places to play have changed over time. In the past these were in the streets, near home (29%), indoors (16%) and in some natural places (15%) whereas nowadays children like playing indoors best (41%) and, to a lesser extent, in the garden (17%).

  • The majority of children (over 70%) say they are supervised wherever they play, except only 52% are supervised in the garden and 31% in the streets near their homes. This rises to over 80% in natural places.

  • The grandparents' generation had slightly more freedom than the younger adults and most feel that children have less freedom today (87%). The parents’ generation were a little more likely to have played at organised venues but still feel that they had more freedom than children today.

  • Parents would like their children to be able to play in natural spaces unsupervised (85%) but fears of strangers and road safety prevent them from giving much freedom to their children.

  • Children would like more freedom to play outside (81%). Nearly half of the children say they are not allowed to play outside unsupervised and nearly a quarter are worried to be out alone.

  • Traditional outdoor activities are as popular now as they were in the past with all achieving a mean score of more than 3 out of 5. Building a camp or den and exploring rock pools on the beach were and still are the most popular activities.

  • There is little difference in attitudes across the country and little difference in attitudes based on whether adults and children live in urban or rural communities.

The Bumper Book of Nature by Stephen Moss
The Bumper Book Of Nature is a treasure trove of nature activities, ideas and information, to inspire and entertain you wherever you are. Go fishing for tiddlers; become a bat detective; take a city safari; find snakes and lizards; identify butterflies and dragonflies; look for owl pellets… Make nettle soup; or itching powder from rosehips; make a bark rubbing; an elder-stem peashooter; or elderflower fritters. Wake up in time to hear the dawn chorus; listen to the heartbeat of a tree; or just stand out in the rain for half an hour…

For further information please contact Louise Rhind-Tutt in the Square Peg press office on 020 7840 8592 or

A lifelong birdwatcher and naturalist, Stephen Moss works at the BBC Natural History Unit where he has produced programmes including Springwatch, Autumnwatch and The Nature of Britain. Author of the ‘Birdwatch’ column in the Guardian, his other books include Birds and Weather, A Bird in the Bush and This Birding Life. Stephen lives in Somerset with his wife and five children.

Natural England
Natural England works for people, places and nature to conserve and enhance biodiversity, landscapes and wildlife in rural, urban, coastal and marine areas. We conserve and enhance the natural environment for its intrinsic value, the wellbeing and enjoyment of people, and the economic prosperity it brings. For further information about Natural England please visit: link

British Wildlife Photography Awards (BWPA)
The inaugural British Wildlife Photography Awards (BWPA) is launching its ‘Call for Entries’ on Thursday 2 April, lasting until Friday 31 July 2009. Natural England is sponsoring one of the seven categories, “Wildlife in Your Locality”, and one of the two Awards for young people, “School and Youth Community Award”. This is part of Natural England’s strategy to encourage people of all ages - especially young people - to get outside with a camera to photograph the amazing wildlife that exists in our national parks, our national nature reserves or even in our back gardens.

For more information about the BWPA, telephone Maggie Gowan, Director of BWPA on 07767 337 359 or Michelle Hawkins, press officer for Natural England on 0300 060 1109.

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