Natural England - Natural Connections

Natural Connections

The Natural Connections Demonstration Project funded by DEFRA, Natural England and English Heritage, and recently contracted to Plymouth University, is one of the largest outdoor learning projects in the UK. This highly innovative 3 year Project (2012-2015), working in more than 200 schools across the South West of England, aims to significantly increase the number of school aged children experiencing the full range of benefits that come from learning in natural environments.

Inspecting hazel nut © Paul Glendell

The Natural Connections Demonstration Project 2012-2016

Natural Connections Management Group including the National Trust, RSPB, the Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts, Volunteering England and the English National Parks Authorities Association have strongly recommended a large-scale (200 plus schools), 4 year Demonstration Project as the most effective way to practically test, assess and evaluate all aspects of the proposed outdoor learning service for schools. The Project approach and design is informed by the latest insight research of teachers needs, evidence of barriers and benefits of learning in natural environments and best practice models for engaging volunteers. The aim is for the Project to be self-funding by the 3rd year.

Following a European–wide tendering exercise Plymouth University was selected to deliver the 3 year Demonstration Project (2012-2015) to more than 200 schools in 5 areas across the South West of England:

  • Plymouth,
  • Torbay,
  • Bristol,
  • Weston-Super-Mare,
  • Cornwall (specifically Penzance, Camborne, Redruth and St Austell)

 Working with a range of local, regional and national delivery partners the Project will target schools that currently provide little or no learning in natural environments, often schools from deprived urban areas, recruiting volunteers from the local community to build capacity in their local school, while enabling the school to access the wealth of resources, skills and expertise available in their local community. As such the Project is founded on two core principles in the Natural Environment White Paper of voluntary action and fair access to the natural environment. 

Over the next 3 years the Project will deliver:

  • School transformation - c200 schools with approximately 40,000 children and 2,000 school staff, with little or no previous experience of children learning in natural environments, will have embedded learning outside the classroom into their practice and culture.
  • Active community involvement - c500 local volunteers will have been recruited, trained and be actively supporting their local schools to access local green spaces. 
  • Better access to existing resources - an enhanced online web service, Growing Schoolsexternal link, will enable teachers and local communities to have easier access to the wealth of learning places, resources and support already available in their locality
  • Evidence - to demonstrate to schools and parents the positive impacts and value of learning in natural environments

Contact us

If you would like to contact the project, or sign up to the monthly newsletter, please email

Project newsletters

Video clip

As part of the Natural Connections launch event on 2 July 2013, Plymouth University presented a short filmexternal link showing some activities taking place in some of the schools already signed up to the project. There are also interviews with some of the inspiring teachers already seeing the benefits of taking their lessons outside.