Five years on from the Natural Childhood report more families than ever are enjoying nature at National Trust places.
Last year almost 4.5 million family members visited the conservation charity’s places – with visits growing steadily over the last five years.
It follows a huge amount of work by rangers and learning staff to make the Trust’s landscapes, gardens and reserves more accessible to children and families. The National Trust’s 50 things to do before you’re 11¾ campaign has seen more than 100,000 children try activities like building a den and hunting for bugs.
The work was sparked by the Trust’s Natural Childhood report, written by broadcaster Stephen Moss and published in March 2012. It presented evidence from across the globe to highlight the growing problem of children’s disconnection from nature.
A third more children could identify a Dalek as could spot a Magpie, the report revealed. Less than one in 10 children regularly played in wild places.
The report inspired a nationwide inquiry into the barriers stopping children from connecting with nature and a feature-length documentary, Project Wild Thing, that has now been watched by more than a million people.
Jess McGurk, National Trust head of visitor experience and learning, said: “Giving families great experiences of our places has become a huge part of what we do.
“We know that spending time in nature is good for people’s health and wellbeing. Our partnership with Sport England is all about getting families active outdoors.”
The National Trust was a founder member of the Wild Network, a coalition of thousands of people and organisations committed to connecting young people with nature.
Mark Sears, CEO of the Wild Network, added: “More and more people know that time spent outdoors in nature is critical if we are to support children to thrive in the 21st century.
“But our next challenge is to translate this into action – so that families, communities and schools can overcome the significant barriers that stop them from making this happen on a day-to-day basis.”
In south Birmingham dozens of teenagers have helped look after their local woods and parks, thanks to an innovative partnership between the National Trust, Council Ranger Service and Birmingham Youth Service
The scheme, called Green Academies Project, sees 16-19 year olds not in employment, education or training (NEET) volunteer alongside National Trust rangers and work towards countryside management qualifications.
Rangers have also visited local festivals in Birmingham, running bushcraft activities with their Urban Rangers – young people aged 11-16 who are referred to the project by local agencies.
The National Trust’s Dee Whittle, who manages the Green Academies Project, said that Birmingham parents’ view of nature has shifted over the last five years.
She said: “When we started the project we’d roll up in the Land Rover and bring out whittling knives and start lighting fires.
“Some thought that it would encourage anti-social behaviour in the area. It took a lot of explaining that we were actually showing people how to use tools safely.
“We don’t have to explain that much now. Parents are quite happy for their kids to join in and we see a lot more people understand that natural play is a good thing.
“Parents were the hardest to persuade: the kids would start playing as soon as they were let loose. Now, people get it.”
The National Trust is now looking at more ways to get families engaged with nature.
The charity’s Jess McGurk added: “Looking after the outdoors is a major part of what we do. And we want families to be part of that.
“We’re continuing our popular 50 things campaign this summer. But we’re also interested in how digital technology and micro-volunteering can help connect children with nature and the outdoors.”