Children in England spent less time outdoors since coronavirus pandemic began, new research shows

A Natural England report showed 6 in 10 children in England said they had spent less time outdoors during the pandemic, with just 27 per cent reporting spending time at the seaside.

Tuesday, 3rd November 2020, 3:45 pm

A recently published study, The People and Nature Survey for England: Children’s survey, carried out by Natural England, surveyed 1,501 children aged between eight and 15 across England between August 6 to 18.

Its purpose was to find out how Covid-19 had affected their perspectives of nature, and to determine how much time they had spent outdoors.

Six in 10 children said they had spent less time outdoors since the pandemic began, whereas only 25 per cent reported spending more time outside, and a staggering 81 per cent of children said they had spent less time outside with friends - although this figure may have been influenced by the closure of schools.

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New research conducted by Natural England showed that on average, 60 per cent of children in England had reported spending less time outdoors since the coronavirus pandemic began.

Nearly half (48 per cent) of all children taking part in the study cited worries about catching coronavirus as the reason they spent less time in nature, and 41 per cent were "worried about breaking coronavirus rules."

But in the same study focusing on adults in August, 45 per cent reported spending more time outdoors - a significant proportion more than children.

One in five of the children surveyed were part of a family which was shielding during the lockdown, which will have limited their access to outdoor space.

Of the outdoor spaces children did spend time in, gardens and parks came out on top - with 62 per cent reporting they had spent time in theirs or another person's garden, or public parks.

The closure of parks during lockdown, however, had a significant impact on children, prompting 56 per cent of eight to 11-year-olds to claim it had prevented them from spending more time outdoors.

Natural outdoor spaces were visited much less frequently by participating children, with only 26 per cent visiting woodland, and 27 per cent visiting the seaside.

Emily Parr, Fylde beach care officer for Keep Britain tidy, encouraged parents to take advantage of the Fylde coastline as the second national lockdown approaches on Thursday (November 5).

“Visiting the beach has tremendous benefits for the whole family – fresh air, gentle exercise and the proven benefits to our health and wellbeing when connecting to nature," she said.

"In the modern world, where screen time is so high it couldn’t be more important for children to spend time outdoors. What better place than the beach, when it is on our doorstep and completely free.

"There’s a wealth of wildlife to discover on the beach throughout the year. Why not explore the sand dunes of St Annes, go rock pooling in South Shore or beachcombing for natural treasures in Fleetwood. Or take some gloves and do your own mini beach clean, create a sand sculpture or simply wrap up for a coastal walk.

"Our Fylde Cost beaches and waters are cleaner than ever, so there’s no reason not to make the most of them.

"As we face further restrictions, thankfully the beach remains open. I just hope more people discover the wonderful benefits of spending time by the sea, for children and parents alike."

Despite 60 per cent of children reporting they had spent less time outdoors since the coronavirus pandemic began, 79 per cent of those children reported that spending time in nature and with wildlife "made them very happy."

Children reported wide ranging benefits from spending time outdoors, with the most commonly reported things including having a quiet and relaxing time (47 per cent), being able to exercise (46 per cent) and having fun playing (39 per cent).

But there may also have been further socio-economic reasons as to why children were spending less time outdoors.

The study found that of the families whose annual household income was £17,000 or lower, nearly three quarters -73 per cent - of those children had spent less time in nature.

In addition, the study outlined that children's access to nature varied across the country, and 71 per cent of children who spent less time outside came from ethnic minority backgrounds, in comparison to 57 per cent of white children.

Environmental concern remained an important factor for the majority of children surveyed - whether they had spent more or less time outdoors - with 82 per cent of them stating they wanted to do more to help the environment.

The Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside also conducted a similar in-house study in Manchester and surrounding areas, which concluded that 99 per cent of participants agreed that nature was important to them.

A spokesman for the Wildlife Trust said: "The findings of Natural England's new 'People and Nature Survey' are both fascinating and disturbing. Here at the Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside, we know just how vital a connection to wildlife is for everyone, particularly for young people.

"Through our events, forest school and ecotherapy sessions, we see first-hand the benefits of getting outside and the many roles that nature can play - acting as a classroom, gym, or as a place to find solace.

"According to Natural England's recent findings, children from ethnic minority backgrounds and lower income households reported spending even less time outside.

"We believe that everyone has the right to free access to local, healthy, wildlife-rich green spaces, but sadly, not everybody does - through our work we are continuing to look at ways to address this - working closely with local communities and campaigning for a wilder world which will ultimately benefit everybody."

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