An analysis of what the 25 year Environmental Plan is really asking of our schools, and is it enough:
Chapter 3: Connecting people with the environment to improve health and wellbeing.
At a glance we will:
- Help people improve their health and wellbeing by using green spaces including through mental health services.
- Encourage children to be close to nature, in and out of school, with particular focus on disadvantaged areas.
- ‘Green’ our towns and cities by creating green infrastructure and planting one million urban trees.
- Make 2019 a year of action for the environment,working with Step Up To Serve and other partners to help children and young people from all backgrounds to engage with nature and improve the environment.
Spending time in the natural environment – as a resident or a visitor – improves our mental health and feelings of wellbeing.
It can reduce stress, fatigue, anxiety and depression. It can help boost immune systems, encourage physical activity and may reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as asthma21. It can combat loneliness and bind communities together.
21 Evidence Statement on the links between natural environments and human health, University of Exeter and Defra, 2017; Urban green
A wide range of activity is under way to help people experience these benefits.
A number of outdoor sports and leisure organisations, green space managers, environmental organisations and schools encourage people to participate in activities in green spaces.
The forest school approach encourages children to explore nature and have a relationship with the outdoors. The new science and geography curriculum and qualifications encourage pupils to undertake fieldwork as part of their course of study.
Farms in both rural and urban locations host groups of school children and share their knowledge about the environment and where food comes from.
Some health professionals have adopted a practice known as ‘green prescribing’, a type of social prescribing where nature- based interventions are used to treat people with health conditions. Examples of interventions include gardening, conservation, care farms 22 and green gyms.
However, there is more to do. The number of people who spend little or no time in natural spaces is too high. Recent data from the Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment survey tells us that some 12% of children do not visit the natural environment each year.
In the most deprived areas of England, people tend to have the poorest health and significantly less green space than wealthier areas.
In healthcare and school settings, and despite some excellent examples of pioneering practice, the possible benefits
22 Care farms are working farms that provide health, social or educational care services for
of contact with nature to promote good mental health or support early interventions for mental health problems are often overlooked.
This Plan sets out ways in which we will make it easier for more people, from every background, to enjoy nature.
2. Encouraging children to be close to nature, in and out of school
Playing and learning outside is a fundamental part of childhood, and helps children grow up healthy. Some children are lucky enough to have a family garden; others will not and it is important that we find other ways to give them better access to the great outdoors. We know that regular contact with green spaces, such as the local park, lake, or playground, can have a beneficial impact on children’s physical and mental health.
The initiatives we outline below are designed to encourage and support outdoor activities, particularly where a child has no access to a family garden. Government will make available £10m of funding to support these initiatives.
i. Helping primary schools create nature-friendly grounds
We will launch a Nature Friendly Schools Programme to help more communities create the kind of school grounds that support learning about the natural world and also keep children happy and healthy.
The government will provide support for schools in our most disadvantaged areas that wish to create nature friendly grounds and to design and run activities that support pupil’s health and wellbeing through contact with nature.
Actions we will take include:
- Developing a Nature Friendly Schools programme for schools in our most disadvantaged areas with input from stakeholders that can be opened to schools from autumn 2018.
ii. Supporting more pupil contact with local natural spaces
We want to make it easier for schools and Pupil Referral Units to take pupils on trips to natural spaces on a regular basis where they can combine learning with feeling healthier and happier. This might involve class visits to a city farm, a local nature reserve, woodland or National Park. In cases of individual need, a pupil might go to a care farm on a bespoke itinerary.
Actions we will take include:
- Developing a programme to support schools and Pupil Referral Units in our most disadvantaged areas in establishing progressive programmes of nature contact for their pupils, which can be opened to schools from autumn 2019.
- Supporting the expansion of school outreach activities delivered by community forests.
- Supporting a national expansion of care farming by 2022, trebling the number of places to 1.3m per year for children and adults in England.
So school grounds, trips to forests and care farms.