The Monitor of Engagement With the Natural Environment Pilot study found:
Many children frequently visited the natural environment, but a sizeable minority never or rarely visited On average: - Around nine million children in England visited the natural environment in the preceding 12 months (88 per cent of all children in England).
Some 70 per cent of children (seven million children) visited the natural environment frequently (at least once a week).
Some 12 per cent of children (1.3 million) never visited the natural environment in the previous 12 month period.
Regional variations were apparent e.g. more children living in the North East took frequent visits (78 per cent) compared to children living in the West Midlands (64 per cent) or London (62 per cent). The frequency of children’s visits to the natural environment was linked to ethnicity and socioeconomic status On average: - Children from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) households were less likely to frequently visit the natural environment (56 per cent) compared to children from non-Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (non-BAME) households (74 per cent). - Children from higher income households (socio-economic groups A and B) were more likely to visit frequently (77 per cent) than children from lower income households (socioeconomic groups D and E) (65 per cent)
There were strong links between adult and child visiting behaviours. The results show a strong association between the frequency of visits taken by adults to the natural environment and children living in the same household.
In households where the adults were frequent visitors to the natural environment, most children (82 per cent) were also frequent visitors. In households where the adults rarely (or never) visited the natural environment, the proportion of children visiting frequently halved to 39 per cent.
In an average month: 75 per cent of all children visited the natural environment with adults from their own household.
#15 per cent of all children took visits with their grandparents and a similar proportion visited with other non-resident family members.
#Eight per cent of all school-aged children (6-15) visited natural environments with their schools.
#Children in the most affluent AB socio-economic group were around twice as likely to visit the natural environment with their school as those in the less affluent C2 and DE groups (10 per cent vs six per cent).
#22 per cent of children took visits to the natural environment without any adults present (i.e. on their own or with other children). Most children’s visits were to local natural environments Local natural environments were important to all groups studied regardless of ethnicity or socio-economic status: - In an average month, nearly half of all children visited local urban parks (48 per cent/4.9m).
#Regional variations The survey sample size also allowed for analysis on a regional basis. For example: - Children living in the North East and South East were more likely to take visits to the natural environment at least once a week (78 per cent and 75 per cent respectively) compared to children living in the West Midlands or London (65 per cent and 62 per cent respectively).
The types of places visited by children also varied by region. For example, a higher than average proportion of children living in the South West visited woodland and the coast; children from the North East were also more likely to visit the coast; children from the East Midlands and South East were more likely to visit country parks. The results of this study are important in that they highlight clear social inequalities in how children are accessing natural environments and show a correlation between the frequency at which children visit the natural environment and both their ethnicity and socio-economic status. The results also illustrate that adults are extremely important mediators of children’s visits to natural environments, with children being more likely to visit more frequently when the adults in their household are frequent visitors. Analysis of MENE data has previously revealed that adults are also more likely to be frequent visitors to the natural environment when there are children in their household. This growing evidence of the strong relationships between the visiting behaviours of adults and children within households will be useful in informing future intervention strategies to support improvements in public health, wellbeing and outdoor learning.
On the basis of Year One findings data from the pilot have already been adopted by the Office for National Statistics as part of their indicator set for children’s well-being and by DEFRA as part of their development of an indicator set for monitoring delivery of the Natural Environment White Paper and Biodiversity 2020. The data set is also being used by Public Health England to complement their public health outcomes data. As a result, the pilot question set has now been adopted into the ongoing MENE survey. We hope the findings will be useful and of interest for organisations and individuals working to increase access to local natural environments as a way to improve outcomes for children.