'Cottonwool kids' denied access to countryside, warns Natural England
Wild places are out of bounds to a generation of "cottonwool kids", according to a survey that found the majority of children do not play in the countryside. By Louise Gray, Environment Correspondent
The Natural England poll found that a generation ago 40 per cent of children would play in woodland, heaths and other open spaces during their spare time. But children today are increasingly cossetted with less than ten per cent playing in the countryside at the weekend or after school.
The poll of both adults and children found young people in the past had much more freedom but today the majority are supervised wherever they play because of concerns about road safety and "stranger danger". Stephen Moss, author of educational children's books on nature, said children are spending more times indoors in front of the computer or television instead. He said: "Concerns over child safety are understandable, but if children can't get out and explore the natural world, we run the risk of raising a generation of 'cotton wool kids' whose experiences are defined by websites and computer games."
The survey involved more than 500 children and more than 1,000 adults. It found the most popular place to play for children today is at home, whereas adults said their favourite place to play as youngsters was in the streets. In a similar way just a quarter of children have a natural space to play regularly near their home compared to three quarters of children in the past.
However, traditional outdoor activities such as pond dipping, climbing trees and playing conkers are still enjoyed by children when they can take part and most would like more freedom to play outdoors.
Chris Packham, the new presenter of BBC's Springwatch, said children are in danger of losing touch with nature. He said: "If a generation becomes detached from the natural world, it is in danger of becoming indifferent and whilst some skills are learnt in the classroom, others only come from being knee deep in mud and elbow deep in frog spawn. It is these early years of inspiration that set in motion a life time passion; today's young explorers are tomorrow's naturalist and biologists – if they don't learn how it works how will they look after it for the future?"
Natural England are so concerned about children losing contact with nature that the Government agency has launched the One Million Children Outdoors programme aiming to introduce one million children to nature over the next three years.
The campaign will include doubling the number of farm visits by school children, launching a new interactive website for families interested in wildlife, encouraging more children to visit national nature reserves and a ensuring more people from deprived communities gain access to the natural world. Poul (CORR) Christensen, acting Chairman for Natural England, said children are being denied "the fundamental sense of independence and freedom in nature that their parents enjoyed". He said: "The natural environment is there to be explored by children, it is their right.