Yet another survey highlighting our isolation from the great outdoors

How depressing it is to see another survey highlighting our growing isolation from the natural world (How we lost our way to the great outdoors, Harry Wallop, 9th June 2010, the DailyTelegraph). The findings of a survey conducted by outdoor equipment retailer Go Outdoors echo our research carried out among school children showing that 53 per cent did not go on a single trip to countryside in 2008 – and we wonder why many children struggle with basic flora and fauna identification?

It is truly tragic that so many people, especially children, do not spend time, either by choice or lack of
opportunity, in the thousands of acres of publically available natural spaces across the UK. We have some of the most inspiring countryside in the world, but its under utilisation draws into question the value of increased access rights, for example through Marine and Coastal Access Act, rather than promotion of its
wider use.

Fear seems to be one of the main reasons for under utilisation of the outdoors, but should it really cripple
people from having fun building campfires, going fishing or tackling the Snowdon assent? In the context of school visits, teachers remain fearful about health and safety, but when examined against the numbers of incidents occurring on school visits and prosecutions against teachers this fear is disproportionate especially when weighed against the benefits of outdoor education. Of the 138 local authorities that responded to our Freedom of Information request, only 364 legal claims were made over a ten year period and fewer than half of the cases were successful and resulted in compensation payouts – the average payout per local authority per year was just £293. We must remember that old Spanish proverb: “A life lived in fear is a life half lived”.

If we are to respond to the challenges of climate change and feeding the world’s growing population, the next generation must have a practical understanding of the natural environment, not an unhealthy fear of it, to ensure its sustainable future. The Countryside Alliance Foundation believes an entitlement to outdoor education should be created in the National Curriculum to ensure this becomes a reality.

To find out more about our campaign go to: www.countrysideclassroom.org.uk

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