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Children’s connections with nature

Cheryl Willis, Principal Adviser at the Connecting People with Nature Programme within Natural England, discusses the results from a new Natural England survey of children aged 8-15 across England about their experiences of nature during the COVID-19 crisis.

October 2020

Now the autumn days seem to be firmly with us, there really is nothing like getting outside and seeing the glorious colours of nature. For me, growing up in a fairly crowded council estate, getting out into different greenspaces was a real treat and I still remember the happiness of pulling on my red wellies and jumping into piles of leaves, hearing the crunch beneath my feet.

We know that getting outside and connecting with nature in some way is good for our well-being and never has that felt so important as now. For many children however, this has not been their reality over the past months, when fears around Covid have stopped many children from spending this precious time outside.

A new survey by Natural England asked children and young people (aged 8-15) directly about their experiences in nature during August when strict lockdown had eased a little but restrictions were still in place. This shows that as many as six in ten children (60%) reported to have spent less time outdoors since the start of the Pandemic coronavirus, more than double the proportion that had spent more time outside (25%).

These findings suggest that, when read alongside the results for adults in the same period, far fewer children are spending more time outside since covid took hold than adults (45% adults report spending more time outside compared to 25% of children). The biggest reason given (48% of children) for not spending more time outside was being worried about catching / spreading coronavirus.

The inequalities in this picture are also notable. Children from ethnic minority backgrounds spent even less time outside since coronavirus (71%) than white children (57%). Part of the reason for this could be that more children from ethnic minority backgrounds said they were part of families who were shielding. Ethnic minority children also reported increased levels of worry. For children from lower income households, results are also concerning, with 73% spending less time outdoors compared with 57% from higher income households (above and below £17,000).

Undoubtedly, children’s mental health has suffered during this period but the role of nature in supporting children’s well-being is clear, with eight in ten children agreeing that being in nature made them very happy. Notably, children who reported spending more time outside (and more time noticing nature / wildlife) were more likely to report that ‘being in nature makes me very happy’ (91% and 94% respectively, compared to 79% of those who had spent less time).

It’s so important that we ensure everyone across our society has access to the benefits of nature and Natural England is committed to promoting health and wellbeing through the natural environment, helping more people from a wider cross-section of society benefit from it. Our own prospectus commits to working towards every child being ‘able to play in nature rich places close to home’ and to have the chance to form those memories which last a lifetime. For me, with a new puppy as added motivation, I look forward to many long walks together, the opportunity to clear my head and just ‘be’ in the wonderful greenspaces that I’m fortunate enough to be able to walk to from where I now live.

Natural England’s mission is to build partnerships for nature’s recovery. We need to involve more people in conversations on how to do that. If you would be keen to learn more and collaborate with us, you can find full details about the People and Nature survey here and you can email: about the survey or me directly,

Follow: @NaturalEngland

The opinions expressed in this blog are the author's and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership.