Schools can mitigate children's declining contact with nature, but various spatial, cultural, and social factors tend to impede the process

Walker, E. ., Bormpoudakis, D. ., & Tzanopoulos, J. . (2021). Assessing challenges and opportunities for schools’ access to nature in England. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening.

Schools can play an important role in providing increased access to nature for children. Potential avenues available to schools for doing so include (a) creating natural areas on the school grounds, (2) visiting nearby green spaces, and (3) transporting children to nature reserves or similar sites away from the school site. This study assessed English primary schools' current and potential provision of access to nature. The study also investigated the opportunities and challenges of doing so.

An online survey collected quantitative data on how schools currently provide access to nature for their pupils. Over 200 responses representing teachers, administrators, teaching assistants, and other school personnel were used in the data analysis. Qualitative data collected by way of interviews with staff members at 20 different schools provided more detailed information about the opportunities and challenges of accessing nature through schools. Distances between schools and off-campus natural environments (nearby parks, natural reserves, informal environmental education sites, etc.) were calculated to assess the potential for schools to take trips to such environments.

Survey results showed that the most common opportunity for direct contact with nature was through school-based natural environments (nature trails, natural playgrounds, forest schools, etc.). Access to nature through on-site natural environments was generally frequent, with almost 90% of survey respondents indicating that such natural environments were used at least a few times per month; almost 38% on an every-day basis. The number of trips to off-site locations in one school year varied considerably between schools. Most schools (60%) took five or fewer trips over the year. The most commonly mentioned factor limiting the number of school trips to sites where children can experience direct contact with nature was transport cost. Other limiting factors included the “pressure of delivering the National Curriculum and teachers' lack of engagement with outdoor learning.” Distance analysis showed that schools in urban areas “are not radically worse than rural areas in terms of distance to generic green space.”

While this research shows that distance between schools and natural environments is a limiting factor to children's access to nature, other social and cultural factors also play a role. “Thus, in order to improve children's access to nature, planning initiatives to create more natural environments close to school sites should be accompanied by measures to reduce the non-spatial limitations to access, such as the pressures of curriculum requirements and funding.”

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