A fifth of deprived children never spend time in nature, study finds

By Joe Lepper

| 14 March 2019

Around one in five children living in England's most deprived areas never spend time in the natural environment, research for the government has found.

Survey highlights the importance of adults encouraging children to enjoy the natural environment. Image: Natural England

Eighteen per cent of children in this demographic spend all their time in urban areas, compared with 13 per cent of all children overall, according to the study by natural environment organisation Natural England.

"Children living in deprived areas are especially unlikely to spend time in countryside and coastal areas," says the report published this month.

And when children from lower income households do go outside, the rate is lower than with their more privileged peers - 75 per cent living in more affluent areas spend time outdoors at least once a week, dropping to 65 per cent among those in the most disadvantaged areas, according to the survey.

 

The research also reveals that black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) children are less likely to spend time outdoors. Just 57 per cent of BAME children play outside at least once a week, compared with 73 per cent of white children.

The organisation, which advises the government on the natural environment, is calling for further research to better understand why there are such differences based on ethnicity.

The survey also reveals the growing importance of adults, including parents, teachers as well as youth and community workers, in encouraging children to enjoy the natural environment.

Children in their early teens are also increasingly shunning the countryside and parks as places to play, unless supervised by an adult.

Among 10- to 15-year-olds surveyed, 39 per cent had spent time playing outside in natural areas without an adult in 2017/18, compared with 45 per cent in 2013/14.

In 2017/18 only 18 per cent of all children aged under 16 had visited a natural space without adults. Around three quarters (74 per cent) of visits were with adults from the same household, while 35 per cent of visits were with other adults, including grandparents, school staff and Scout and Guide leaders.

"Adult supervision is an important factor influencing the amount of time children spend in nature," states Natural England's report into the survey findings.

"Even the oldest children are more likely to spend time outside in the company of adults (including parents, extended family, schools and community groups), than they are on their own or with other children.

"While overall levels of children's time spent outside have remained constant over the last four years, levels of independent play outside, without adult supervision, have declined."

 

The survey also shows that between the ages of seven to 15 and 16 to 24, children are less likely to say that "spending time with nature is important" to them, that nature makes them "very happy" and that they will "always treat nature with respect".

Increasing popularity of online media and gaming is a possible factor in this trend, says Natural England.

"There is a marked change around the early teenage years, in terms of motivations and places visited, with a decrease in those reporting the strongest pro-nature attitudes," adds the report.

Play is the top reason for spending time outdoors cited by children, whether with an adult, independently or with friends.

Around a quarter (22 per cent) of children spend time outdoors without adults "to let off steam", the survey also reveals.

Parks in towns and cities are the most popular outside place to visit, cited as a destination over the last month by more than half (51 per cent) of children. A fifth (20 per cent) had visited a country park and 17 per cent had visited a beach in the last month.

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