During a meeting early in lockdown volunteer directors at the Forest School Association (FSA) were worrying about the effect that lockdown would have on children’s mental and physical wellbeing. We discussed how the inequity of family’s access to nature, or even a green space, was being exacerbated without opportunities provided by schools. One of our directors said, ‘we need a Nature Premium, you know like the Sports Premium’.
It takes a great idea, someone to hold on to the idea, someone to encourage, more to volunteer and the result is the Nature Premium campaign. We are a small group of volunteers, working independently from the FSA. Working up a detailed plan for a Nature Premium, based on the existing financial model in the Sports Premium that funds regular PE sessions for school children.
An idea whose time has come
In 2018 the government published ‘A Green Future: Our 25-year plan to improve the environment’ which stated that 'The forest school approach encourages children to explore nature and have a relationship with the outdoors'. The paper went onto to describe the priorities of:
• Encouraging children to be close to nature, in and out of school.
• Helping primary schools create nature-friendly grounds.
• Supporting more pupil contact with local natural spaces.
The government has started a schools initiative funding 2% of schools exploring the benefit of nature to children. Natural England’s Deputy Chairman, Lord Blencathra said 'Connecting children with nature is one of the most important things we can do for them. It can boost their health, wellbeing and learning and give them a life-long love of the natural world.' But we need around £18,600 the average figure paid to primary schools, the equivalent to Sports premium funding, to give all children regular experiences of nature boosting their health, wellbeing and learning.
The benefit of time spent in nature is well documented and the government have stated their priorities. In a recent speech Lord Goldsmith said ‘we need to massively ramp up our efforts to protect and restore the natural ecosystems. This current crisis shows what happens when our relationship with nature breaks down’ and he recently tweeted ‘How can we use nature-based solutions in our recovery from #COVID19?’. The Nature Premium would help close to five million children reconnect with the natural world.
The impact a Nature Premium would have
A Nature Premium would allow nurseries and schools to have access to nature embedded within the curriculum. There would be options of; training staff in outdoor learning and building their confidence and knowledge, access to outdoor education centres, farm visits, gardening projects, creating natural spaces in school sites, bringing in outdoor education and conservation specialists, or establishing Forest School in local woodlands. Post lockdown, early years and schools will be able to access the natural world, as a safe and exciting outdoor classroom.
This would set the foundations of a generation reconnected with nature who would have interest in taking the proposed GCSE in Natural History, taking further qualifications in the life sciences and contributing to the proposed National Nature Service. Indeed, the National Nature Service would be a fantastic resource to work with early year settings and schools to support the Nature Premium programme.
Without the Nature Premium more children than ever before will lose their right to play in, learn from and love the natural world. They will not choose to study a GCSE in a subject they know nothing about, and they will not see the relevance of careers in the farming, conservation, environment, or green industry sectors. The British countryside and economy will be the poorer for this. The trashing of beauty spots and damage to nature reserves during lockdown all point to a disconnect between people and the natural world. Is this damage simply a reflection of what governments and big business have been doing for decades? How many of those causing such havoc ever played as children in a woodland or learned the countryside code? Yet research shows that pro-environmental behaviours, unsurprisingly, are linked to regular access to nature.
The green recovery needs a diverse generation of pro-environmental policy makers, educators, scientists, green economists, foresters, and farmers. Those jobs we haven’t even thought of yet will need to be filled by future generations who have reconnected with the natural world and developed the knowledge and skills necessary to contribute to the British economy.
As children engage in solving environmental problems in their schools and neighbourhoods, planting trees and gardens, they are also planting hope. They learn that they can make a difference. That nature-based solutions are possible. Tending and nurturing they become connected to place, put down roots, and take responsibility.
As children engage in developing nature-rich school grounds, play in and learn to care for Forest School sites, protecting and improving habitats for wildlife, they get to know the natural world as an interconnected living support system. They become guardians of their part of the planet, realising that humans are part of nature, that we will only thrive when we act in harmony with it, not against it. A nature premium could embed this lesson for a new generation.
Sarah Lawfull and Sara Collins are members of the Nature Premium campaign. You can support the campaign by signing the Nature Premium campaign here.
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