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RSPB: Children in Scotland more ‘connected to nature’ than elsewhere in UK

Media release: 16th October 2013
Children in Scotland more ‘connected to nature’ than elsewhere in UK

Groundbreaking study scientifically measures children’s connection to nature. 

Children in Scotland have a significantly higher score of connection to nature than the average for the rest of the UK, according to the results of a three-year research project undertaken by the RSPB and the University of Essex.

The unprecedented study revealed that 27% of children in Scotland were found to have a ‘realistic and achievable’ level of connection to nature compared with the national UK average of 21%.

It also highlights statistically significant differences in children’s connection to nature between girls and boys and British urban and rural homes.

Researchers developed a framework of four key descriptions of children’s feelings towards nature in order to define and measure their level of connection to nature. 1200 children aged 8-12 from across the UK were then given questionnaires designed to assess their enjoyment of nature, empathy for creatures, sense of oneness with nature (or ability to recognise their place in the wider environment), and sense of responsibility for the environment. They were then scored based on their answers.

The report has been produced 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 nature conservation charity is calling for further research in Scotland to establish a baseline for measuring connection with nature year-on-year.

Rebekah Stackhouse, Education and Youth Programmes Manager for RSPB Scotland, said: “This report is ground-breaking. It’s widely accepted 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 across the whole of the UK, which means the problem hasn’t been given the attention it deserves.

“It’s important we work in partnership in Scotland to take these initial findings and continue to develop a baseline specific to our country which we can measure against year-on-year and track progress. The Scottish Government has shown leadership in supporting outdoor learning in schools, and in supporting the establishment of Learning for Sustainability Scotland, but it is clear that more must be done on all levels to ensure our children share a love of the natural world and desire to protect it.”

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 across the UK 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].


For further information and to arrange an interview, please contact: 
Leianna Padgett, RSPB Scotland media & communications office  0131 317 4192/ Out of hours: 07713392172.

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 www.rspb.org.uk/connectionmeasure

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’
Boys 0.96 16%
Girls 1.15 27%
GB urban 1.06 21%
GB rural 1.00 20%
UK total 1.05 21%
Scotland 1.08 27%
N. Ireland 1.12 25%
Wales 0.97 13%
England 1.05 21%
London 1.15 24%

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: www.rspb.org.uk/connectionmeasure

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 www.rspb.org.uk/stateofnature

3. Report published in August by British Heart Foundation and the University of Oxford www.bhf.org.uk  and www.dailymail.co.uk/British-children-risk-heart-disease

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. www.rspb.org.uk

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. www.gulbenkian.org.uk

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. www.greenexercise.org

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 www.projectwildthing.com