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Just one in five UK children ‘connected to nature’, groundbreaking study finds

22 October 2013

Fen Gerry
Media & Communications Officer

For the first time ever, a study to determine how connected UK children are to nature has been carried out. A three-year research project, undertaken by the RSPB, found that only 21% of children in the UK have a level of connection to nature that can be considered ‘realistic and achievable’ for all children [see editors’ notes 1]. The report’s findings will be released at an event at the Houses of Parliament tonight [16 October].

The report comes as a result of growing concerns over generations of children with little or no contact with the natural world and wildlife, which the RSPB believes is one of the biggest threats to UK nature. The new study shows there are statistically significant differences between children’s connection to nature at a national level across the UK, as well as between boys and girls, and British urban and rural homes [see editors’ notes 1].

In May, 25 wildlife organisations, including the RSPB, released the groundbreaking State of Nature report [see editors’ notes 2], which revealed 60 per cent of the wildlife species studied have declined over recent decades. The charity believes that ensuring young people are connected to nature will mean they develop deeply-held feelings and attitudes towards wildlife and the world we all live in, and as a result will care enough to help save it in the future.

Dr Mike Clarke, RSPB Chief Executive, will address MPs at a reception on 16 October, where he will reveal the report’s findings and urge governments and local authorities to adopt this new approach.  He will say: “This report is ground-breaking 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.

“Nature is in trouble, and children’s connection to nature is closely linked to this. The recent State of Nature report shows that nature in the UK is being lost at a dramatic rate. We can all take action to put nature back into childhood, to ensure young people have better lives and a better future.

“For the first time, we have created a baseline that we and others can use to measure just how connected to nature the UK’s children really are. By adopting this new approach, we can all monitor children’s connection and we are recommending that governments and local authorities take action to increase it through policy and practice decisions.

”Over the last decade, a large amount of research has been carried out into the diverse benefits for children of contact with nature and outdoor experiences. These benefits include positive impacts on education, physical health emotional wellbeing and personal and social skills.

Evidence about the impact of an inactive and indoors childhood has grown over the summer with the Chief Executive of the British Heart Foundation calling for a return to the ‘traditional outdoors childhood’ [see editors’ notes 3].

The RSPB believes everyone, from governments to organisations and individuals, has a role to play in connecting children to nature, which is why it has signed up to The Wild Network. The Wild Network is a unique and pioneering collaboration between organisations with an aim to let kids get back their ‘wild time’ and reverse the trend of children losing touch with the natural world and playing outdoors [see editors’ notes].

The kind support of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and the University of Essex made this research possible. Andrew Barnett, Director of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in the UK, says: ‘We are delighted to have supported this groundbreaking study. Robust evidence of children’s connection with nature will be a powerful lever for change.’


For further information, a copy of the full report and to arrange an interview, please contact:

Fen Gerry, RSPB Press Officer for the Midlands,, 07912 406 125 Broadcast-quality radio interviews:

To arrange an ISDN broadcast-quality radio interview please contact Grahame Madge at the RSPB press office. Photographs:

Images to support this story are available from RSPB Images.  To access an image, please click on the hyperlink below and then enter the user name and password when prompted:

User Name:                connection Password:                 nature


Editors’ notes:

1.     The full RSPB report, and methodological report from the University of Essex,  are available to download from The figures in the table show the average score of connection to nature (from -2 to +2) for children aged 8-12 years, and the percentage of children whose score was 1.5 or greater. The RSPB believes that a score of 1.5 is a realistic and achievable target for every child. This is based on our assessment of the average score for schools children visiting our nature reserves and amongst our junior membership. We will undertake further research in the near future to refine this target.


‘average score given for all the statements in total’

‘percentage of children whose score was 1.50 or greater’










GB urban



GB rural






UK total






N. Ireland












TNS questioned 1,088 members of the British public, aged 8–12 years, between 30 November 2012 and 26 March 2013 as part of their weekly face-to-face omnibus survey. Ipsos MORI questioned 112 members of the Northern Ireland public, aged 8–12 years, between 27 October and 4 November 2012. The data were combined and weighted by TNS to ensure that the profile used was representative of the overall population. The quoted differences in connection to nature are statistically significant at the 99% confidence level. The Connection to Nature questionnaire consisted of 16 statements relating to nature. Children taking part were asked how much they agreed or disagreed with each statement. The questionnaire and guidance about how to use it are available here:

2.     The State of Nature report: For the first time ever, the UK’s wildlife organisations have joined forces to undertake a health check of nature in the UK and its Overseas Territories. Working side-by-side, 25 wildlife organisations have compiled stock take of all our native wildlife. The report reveals that 60 per cent of the species studied have declined over recent decades. More than one in ten of all the species assessed are under threat of disappearing from our shores altogether. However, the report illustrates that targeted conservation has produced inspiring success stories and, with sufficient determination, resources and public support, we can turn the fortunes of our wildlife around. To see the full report visit


3.     Report published in August by British Heart Foundation and the University of Oxford and


The RSPB The RSPB is the UK’s largest nature conservation charity, inspiring everyone to give nature a home. Together with our partners, we protect threatened birds and wildlife so our towns, coast and countryside will teem with life once again. We play a leading role in BirdLife International, a worldwide partnership of nature conservation organisations. The RSPB’s Giving Nature a Home campaign is inspiring individuals and families to create homes for nature in their gardens, making people aware that nature on their doorstep is in trouble and showing them what they can do to help.

The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation is supporting the RSPB’s research to measure nature-deficit disorder in children under its Environment theme, which aims to help in the development of a society which benefits from a more sustainable relationship with the natural world and understands the value of its resources. As an international charitable foundation with cultural, educational, social and scientific interests, based in Lisbon with branches in London and Paris, we are in a privileged position of being able to address national and transnational issues and to act as an “exchange” for ideas. The purpose of the UK Branch, based in London, is to help enrich and connect the experiences of people in the UK and Ireland and secure lasting, beneficial change.


Green Exercise Research Team at the University of Essex

Sitting within the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Essex, the Green Exercise Research Team has been researching the concept of “Green Exercise” for over 10 years. World leaders in the field, the team consists of experts in the areas of exercise physiology, psychology, public health, environmental sustainability, community engagement and behaviour change. The team works closely with many external organisations to evaluate nature-based projects on a national and community level. The Green Exercise Research Team is also a leading authority on the use of Participatory Appraisal and Action Research to assess the needs and opinions of communities. With over 25 years’ experience of participatory assessment, it has worked with a wide variety of organisations and target groups both within the UK and internationally.


The Wild Network The RSPB is a founding partner of The Wild Network, which exists to champion and support connection with nature and wildness in children and young people. This is an exciting movement whose goal is to connect every child in the UK with nature. It will do this by building a movement of children, parents, teachers, grassroots organisations, charities, government and businesses that work together to break down the barriers stopping kids getting outside. On the 27 October a major new feature length documentary film ‘Project Wild Thing’ will be shown at Picturehouse cinemas across the country; this is the first initiative of The Wild Network campaign. This powerful and ambitious film takes a look at a father’s emotional journey through the complex issue of connecting children and nature. Individuals and organisations can sign up and join the movement – and find out more about the film – by visiting



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