By Orna Herr, Communications Officer (Education)


Natural spaces really are an amazing thing. They provide a lush ecosystem for a myriad of living things, and as painters spanning thousands of years can attest, there are few more beautiful sights than a natural landscape. As World Environment Day on 5 June reminded us, our planet should be celebrated, protected and restored.  

Celebrating and enjoying the outdoors should in fact be a daily ritual. Spending time out in nature, from a leisurely lunchtime stroll through a city park, to a hike up hills and mountains, has a list of benefits that is seemingly endless. Studies have found that as well as having a positive impact on our psychological wellbeing – reduced stress or anger, improved self-esteem, reduced loneliness – and improved memory skills, time in nature can have tangible effects on our physical health including lower blood pressure and an enhanced immune system 

Building a deep connection 

A further benefit, particularly for children and young people, is a heightened connection with nature and in turn, a passion for conservationism. Science education is of course vital for creating a future generation who are committed to preserving our natural environments, but it’s important to remember that not all education happens in the classroom. One academic study found that, “experiencing meaningful personal connections with nature is as important as scientific knowledge in addressing nature conservation issues.”  

This is backed up by multiple other studies; a study review showed that children and young people with “higher measures of nature connection” are more likely to engage in: 

routine conservation behaviours like energy-saving and recycling and more environmental citizenship behaviours like environmental volunteering and talking with others about the importance of environmental protection.”  

With a worsening climate crisis, and an increased emphasis on encouraging eco-friendly action, simply having children spend more time in natural spaces seems like a solution all most too good to be true.  

And it should be a solution, at least one of them. No one, after all, owns nature, it should be equally available for all children and young people, and adults. But sadly even natural spaces are a resource which children from disadvantaged backgrounds can face barriers in accessing. 

Barriers to the outdoors 

Government research found that 59% of the highest earning households in the UK are within a ten-minute walk to an accessible, natural green space. This is only true of 35% of the lowest-earning households.  

This inequality also impacts people from ethnic minority backgrounds as “city communities with 40% or more residents from minority ethnic backgrounds have access to 11 times fewer green spaces locally than those comprising mainly white residents.” 

Unsurprisingly, these facts and figures correlate with those looking at how much time children spend out in natural environments. It is hard not to imagine causation. 

In 2018/2019, 61% of children from the 10% most deprived areas of the UK reported spending time outdoors at least once a week. This jumps to 81% for the 10% least deprived areas. When looking back at the previous month, 30% of children from the more deprived areas had visited the countryside, while 46% of children in the least deprived areas had.  

Similar clear inequalities were also found between White children and children from ethnic minority backgrounds; 70% of white children spent time outdoors at least once of week, dropping to 56% for children from ethnic minority backgrounds.  

In a fair society, these statistics are not and should not be sustainable. The Department for Education recently released a sustainability and climate strategy to improve environmental education, and part of it is the National Education Nature Park. 

The idea behind the National Education Nature Park is to consider the UK’s collective school grounds, which in England alone cover an area twice the size of Birmingham, as one big park where biodiversity can flourish and children can connect with nature. Engaging children with nature in their school grounds should give every child the chance to build a connection with the environment.  

For more information, watch this video:

Diversity is key 

As well as being incredibly unfair that, currently, children from more privileged backgrounds have more opportunities to reap the long lists of rewards that time spent in nature offers, the disparity is also potentially having a detrimental impact on the future of conservationism. 

There is no escaping the fact that the world is facing a climate crisis, and that today’s children and young people will need to grow into environmentally conscious adults. Some will hopefully move into the science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) workforce where they can make innovations to protect our planet. This path needs to be available and attractive for all children, not just the privileged few.  

Diversity has been proven to be beneficial in STEM. One study found that groups of diverse problem solvers can outperform groups of high-ability problem solvers, possibly as diverse groups bring unique perspectives drawn from their personal experiences, which can become a sum bigger than their parts. 

Easy access to outdoor spaces for all children and young people is essential in the name of fairness, and for the fact that equality, diversity and inclusion benefit society and our future as a whole.  

You might also be interested in:

Blog- Every city should have nature at its heart

Blog - Teaching children about climate change and sustainability 

Blog - Community science inspirations part 5 - Rediscovering nature