Tackling nature-deficit disorder in Britain’s children

posted on July 4, 2014


Two charities promoting environmental education have formed a partnership to tackle ‘nature-deficit disorder’ in Britain’s children.

Young people today often are disconnected from the natural world – a condition coined by American author Richard Louv[1] as ‘nature-deficit disorder’ – leading to multiple issues affecting physical and mental wellbeing, fear of the outdoors, and fundamentally a lack of a meaningful relationship with the environment.

The Forest School Association and the Sylva Foundation have launched a fundraising campaign: Love Trees Love Wood. They aim to raise £30,000 via the crowdfunding site Indiegogo to support existing Forest Schools and to establish more sites across the country, especially in areas of deprivation and in inner cities. Currently there is no funding specifically for Forest Schools in the UK. School budgets are ever tighter. Forest Schools are not government-funded. The crowdsourcing campaign is the only one of its kind in the UK and will generate the only fund set up specifically to support Forest Schools.

Sylva Foundation CEO Dr Gabriel Hemery said

“the Forest School movement is the single most powerful vehicle for environmental education in Britain today.” He continued “We aim to increase the number of Forest Schools in areas of the country where there are few or no Forest Schools, and also to support Forest School leaders in caring for their woodland sites.”

Without Forest Schools our children face a crisis. A recent NHS study revealed that one-in-five children are obese by the time they leave primary school[2]. The Nuffield Foundation (2013) reported that the proportion of young people reporting frequent feelings of depression or anxiety has increased in recent years – doubling between the mid 1980s and the mid 2000s. In 2009 Natural England carried out an extensive study into how children’s contact with the natural world and play patterns have changed:

  • 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.
  • Children today 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.

Jon Cree, Chair of the Forest School Association, said

“there is increasing evidence of how Forest School makes an effective learning programme, and improves children’s confidence and their ability to problem solve. Through the Love Trees Love Wood campaign we aim to increase Forest School provision around the country, by providing sites with equipment such as waterproofs, wellies and tools, and provide more training for educators, parents or carers.”

Forest School child:

“I have learned all I ever needed here, from how to make stuff to how important trees and wood are for my life and health.”

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[1] Louv, R. (2010). Last child in the woods. Atlantic Books. ISBN 978-1848870833 richardlouv.com/books/last-child

[2] http://www.theguardian.com/society/2011/dec/14/children-obese-primary-school-nhs

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