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A fresh air revolution

PUBLISHED: 12:36 07 October 2014 | UPDATED: 12:39 07 October 2014

Excercise is a key benefit of playing outside

Excercise is a key benefit of playing outside

Archant

In its second article on encouraging youngsters to explore the great outdoors, Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust looks at steps to combat an epidemic of housebound children

Project Wild Thing is championing the return of free-range roaming and outdoor-playing kids.Project Wild Thing is championing the return of free-range roaming and outdoor-playing kids.

Children might roll their eyes at the ‘back-in-my-day’ ramblings of older generations, but they can’t argue with the facts: kids today spend half as much time playing outside as their parents did.

A recent study by toy manufacturer JCB Kids, which questioned 2,000 parents, found that Britain’s youngsters play outdoors on average just 10 hours a week – a figure that includes compulsory break times and PE sessions at school. Compared to their parents, who spent 20 hours a week playing outside, today’s children are positively housebound. Why?

There are two popular (if tired) go-to responses. The first is to blame the children themselves, citing either an addiction to technological distractions like the Xbox and PlayStation, or just a general laziness that pervades ‘kids today’. Others point to the urbanisation of modern Britain. With 80 per cent of us now living in towns or cities, many people equate the outdoors with bus lanes and construction sites, not woodlands and meadows. ‘Nature’ is almost a hypothetical concept – it’s out there, sure, but it’s not exactly easily accessible.

In truth, both these points crumble under a little analysis. For one, Britain is an incredibly natural place, with even our biggest cities boasting plenty of wildlife and places to explore. Even in London, 40 per cent is made up of green spaces – a record for major cities in Europe. Nature hasn’t disappeared or gone off-limits – it’s still there.

Discover and Learn with the Wildlife Trust will be available to download soon in the Discover and Learn area of our website at hertswildlifetrust.org.ukDiscover and Learn with the Wildlife Trust will be available to download soon in the Discover and Learn area of our website at hertswildlifetrust.org.uk

And while it may be tempting to blame the children themselves for their lack of time spent outdoors, equal responsibility lies with the older generations. Today, children on average are not allowed outside unsupervised until they are at least 14 years old. With this sort of parental restraint, how can we ever expect today’s youths to live up to the outdoor experiences of previous generations?

Fortunately, a growing number of people are working to repair the link between the British population (especially its children) and the great outdoors. Project Wild Thing, for example, is championing the return of ‘free-range roaming and outdoor-playing kids’. The National Trust, meanwhile, has launched a well-publicised list of ‘50 things to do before you’re 11¾’. Even celebrities are getting in on the act, with comedian Hugh Dennis launching his own campaign to get kids playing outside, saying: ‘My most treasured childhood memories are of being in the outdoors, so it’s a sad thought that kids today aren’t enjoying the experiences which we remember so fondly.’

Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust is also taking on the issue across a range of community engagement work, including the Woodlands for People and Wildlife scheme in south and east Hertfordshire and our Colne Valley project in the south west of the county. The trust has reached thousands of people, including many children. Together we’ve explored woods and toasted marshmallows on a fire; become ‘duck detectives’; learnt about bushcraft and created stunning leaf crowns.

The trust runs a wide range of events that aim to get children more involved with nature. One such rallying call is the upcoming Wild Woods Day on Saturday October 25, when there will be all sorts of fun for woodland explorers. If you go down to the woods that day you will definitely get a big surprise – with stalls with tasty homemade food, storytelling, face-painting and lots more planned. The event will be held at Gobions Wood (Brookmans Park), with the fun kicking off at 11am and continuing throughout the day until 4pm. For more information, visit hertswildlifetrust.org.uk/wildwoodsday

The trust has also just completed work on an education pack aimed at primary school teachers. Discover and Learn with the Wildlife Trust will be available to download soon in the Discover and Learn area of our website at hertswildlifetrust.org.uk The pack is full of fun educational activities to do outside which link directly into the National Curriculum.

A fresh-air revolution is upon us. It’s time to head outside!

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