Recognising the heroes connecting young people with nature

Today marks the start of a two month search for the heroes connecting young people with nature across the UK.

The Wild Network and BBC Countryfile Magazine are spearheading a search for the volunteers, professionals and groups who are committing time, energy and resource to sparking young people’s interest in nature and the outdoors.

Children have never been more disconnected from nature, as confirmed by research carried out by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the University of Essex last October. The findings reveal that only one in five children under-12 have a ‘connection to nature’.  Time spent playing outdoors has halved in a generation and children are more likely to recognise television characters than common wildlife species.

The awards were set up in 2012 by the National Trust and BBC Countryfile Magazine to celebrate the life and legacy of social reformer, environmental champion and one of the National Trust founders, Octavia Hill. 

Pastel drawing of Octavia Hill

Nominations for the three categories – volunteer, professional and group – will be judged by a panel of experts before being put to a public online poll.

Last year the Octavia Hill Awards attracted more than 140 nominations, with over 10,000 votes cast online to decide the winner.

The judges for this year’s awards will include: David Bond, Director of Project Wild Thing, Wayne Bulpitt, UK Chief Commissioner of the Scout Association and Fergus Collins, Editor of BBC Countryfile Magazine.

David Bond, Marketing Director for Nature and star of the recent Project Wild Thing film, said: “Making Project Wild Thing I met a huge number of people who were passionate about getting kids back out into the wild and instilling in them their own love of nature.

“Octavia Hill was a passionate believer in creating green spaces for all – particularly children.  It is in her spirit that these awards recognise the talent and passion of those inspiring the next generation of nature lovers.”

Children playing on the beach, Birling Gap. Credit Megan Taylor

Children playing on the beach, Birling Gap. Credit Megan Taylor

Wayne Bulpitt, UK Chief Commissioner of The Scout Association said: “I first developed a love for the outdoors as a Cub Scout. It was a cub leader – a volunteer – who took me camping in the forest and taught me to name different trees.   These opportunities increased as I grew up through the Scout sections.

“There are 35,000 young people on waiting lists for Beaver, Club and Scout groups. The demand is there. Young people want to try scouting. It’s the lack of adult volunteers that’s holding them back.

“If we are serious about connecting children with nature we need to celebrate and encourage the volunteers who give many young people their first taste of the outdoors.”

Stephen Trotter, The Wildlife Trusts’ Director, England, said: “Tens of thousands of children have fun exploring wild places with The Wildlife Trusts every year – whether on their own, with family, friends or with their school.  There’s an amazing network of more than 1,000 local volunteers, over 300 Wildlife Trust staff and hundreds of forest schools enthusiasts all dedicated to providing the practical opportunities for children to get hands-on and closer to nature. 

“Inspirational is sometimes an over-used word but not in this case – we see so many emotional and moving experience of where nature inspires children and changes their life for the better – not just as a one-off but for a lifetime.

“The Octavia Hill Awards are a fabulous opportunity to recognise some of these wonderful selfless people who help to make it happen.”

Fergus Collins, Editor of BBC Countryfile Magazine, commented: “We are delighted to be a part of these awards, which recognise the hard work of communities and individuals who do so much to reconnect children in the UK with nature.

“Children who regularly experience nature are more likely to care about the environment as adults.  Without the efforts of these volunteers, professionals and groups, we won’t inspire the next generation of conservationists, outdoor-enthusiasts and passionate environmentalists.”

The closing date for submitting nominations for the awards is 31 May 2014.  To apply visit http://www.countryfile.com/octaviahill

An online poll in late June will decide the winners, who will be announced in the September issue of BBC Countryfile Magazine.

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