Engaging children in the co-production of nature-based solutions can foster their connections to nature

Hoyle, H. ., & Cottrill, W. . (2023). Beyond the ‘usual suspects’? Engaging children in diverse communities in co-producing an arboretum-meadow: Professional partner perspectives. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, 79. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ufug.2023.127847

Nature-based solutions (NBS) “are approaches or interventions which harness natural processes, or innovate with nature to deliver multiple ecological, societal and economic co-benefits.” NBS tend to be most impactful when co-produced with local communities. There remains, however, a lack of understanding of which stakeholders in a community should be involved for maximum benefit, including children. This study addressed this gap by engaging representatives from different professions, along with children in a deprived diverse community, to co-produce an educational arboretum meadow on a mini-golf site that was no longer being used.

This project – referred to as “The Futureproofing Luton Project” – was initiated in September 2019 by Luton Parks Service, an academic partner, and River Bank Primary School in the city of Luton, 50 km north of London (UK). Other partners joined the project after being recruited by the initial team. These included a social enterprise, commercial landscape contractor and landscape professionals. The children’s involvement included seeding a meadow, measuring plant growth, identifying meadow species, contributing to signage, and contributing to the design of an outdoor classroom and seating area. Eight professional partners involved in the co-production of the project participated in semi-structured online interviews. The interviews were designed “to identify the professional partners’ priorities in relation to the project, and their perceptions of the opportunities and challenges encountered during this co-productive process.”

A content analysis of the interview transcripts revealed seven partner priorities: (1) nature-connection, (2) wider community engagement and belonging, (3) reputation building and professional advocacy, (4) placemaking under austerity, (5) climate resilience, (6) biodiversity enhancement. and (7) flagship project. All interviewees identified connecting children to nature as a priority. While some emphasized the importance of cognitive understanding of nature, others highlighted the importance of the affective or emotional connection to nature. Direct contact with nature was also emphasized as a promoter of nature connectedness. Interviewees prioritized social benefits of the project over climate-related benefits. They also perceived “diverse partner expertise and priorities” as a positive contributor to the co-productive process. COVID was identified as one of the barriers to the process, as the related school closures disrupted children’s active involvement in the project and placed pressure on the teachers to help children “catch up” in their academic studies.

This research provides transferable insights into the potential for the co-production of educational NBS to foster children’s nature connectedness while managing and maintaining green infrastructure under austerity. This research also illustrates how the co-production of educational NBS at the local level can address a number of the global Sustainable Development Goals.

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