Since I became ill about a year ago I have suspended my work with primary school pupils engaging with nature in Fryent Country Park LINK but was very pleased when the Green Party passed a motion at last weekend's conference asserting children's right to access to nature.
I have seen for myself how children can become enthralled by contact with nature. I remember one child emerging from the woodland and gazing over the meadows and exclaiming, 'This is like Paradise!' On another occasion a child was chatting happlily to me as we walked through a meadow and a teacher ran up to ask, 'Was she talking to you?' I replied that we had been having a chat about all the things she had seen. The teacher drew me aside later and told me that the child was an elective mute and had never spoken to an adult in school.
Natalie Bennett, former leader of the Green Party, moved the motion at Conference and has written about it in the Ecologist LINK. This is part of what she had to say. I think it fits in very well with the move I have been supporting over recent weeks to make London a National Park City.
I also collected the shed shells of cicadas, and learnt about metamorphosis. It was also where I learnt to use a crosscut saw, built childish dams across a muddy stream, and to shower under a waterfall.
These are the kinds of experiences that the Texas City of Austin - perhaps a politically unlikely location - has decided should be the right of every child. In 2016, its council, with not a Green Party member on it, unanimously adopted a Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights, guaranteeing its young people the right to many of those activities I so enjoyed as a child.
We’re increasingly understanding that these activities aren’t just fun, aren’t just educational, but are essential for human wellbeing – will develop skills, knowledge and expectations that will take people through a lifetime of better health and wellbeing.
And of course they’ll prepare people for physical activities – develop the practical skills that equip people to be active in a society where many are suffering from obesity, diabetes and other health issues arising from inactivity.
Lack of opportunities and exercise of these activities has been identified as “Nature Deficit Disorder”. It’s something that many children now suffer from.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has prepared a major report on children’s need for access to nature, pointing out that as well as the health, wellbeing and skills that time spent in nature provides, its essential that if we are to care for our natural world in the future, coming generations have knowledge of and love for it.
Acknowledging this research, and reality, Green Party members before its spring conference, held in Bournemouth, made a motion on the issue their top policy priority for conference.
In it the party backed the call for access to nature to be recognised as a human right, operating at the international level, but also acknowledged that this is something that cities and local government can implement at a local level.
In many parts of the country Green councillors are already fighting to save local parks and green spaces, from the Sefton Park Meadows and Rimrose Valley Park, to Sunderland and Stoneham.
But the framework of a children’s right to nature, something that’s particularly likely to be denied to those in the poorest communities, that acknowledges also that barriers can be lack of knowledge and opportunity as well as lack of access, is an important additional tool, that you can expect to see wielded for the benefit of our children, and our world.