Natural England - New report analyses visits to the natural environment taken with children

New report analyses visits to the natural environment taken with children

29 January 2013

In the Natural Environment White Paper (July 2011), the Government set out its ambition ‘to see every child in England given the chance to experience and learn about the natural environment’. 

Children pond dipping using fishing nets
Children pond dipping at Saltfleetby-Theddlethorpe Dunes National Nature Reserve © Natural England

A new reportexternal link published by Natural England makes an important contribution by analysing visits to the natural environment by adults, taken with children. This report will be complemented by further research to be published this coming spring, examining what specifically motivates children to go outside and enjoy everything that’s great about their local natural world.

Commissioned by Natural England and English Heritage and carried out by TNS Global and King’s College London, this new report examines three years’ data (March 2009 – February 2012) captured by the ongoing monthly ‘Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment’ (MENE) survey.

A snapshot of findings from this new report, ‘MENE (2009 – 2012): Analysis of data related to visits with children’, includes:

  • Numbers: During 2009 to 2012 there were 8.1 billion visits taken by the English adult population to the natural environment. Of these 1.8 billion were taken with children – an average of 22 % of the visits taken each year.

  • Motivations: ‘To play or entertain children’ was cited as a motivating factor for 1.2 billion of the 8.1 billion visits adults took during 2009 to 2012 – an average of 15% of the visits taken each year.

  • Other motivations: To ‘learn something about the outdoors’ was a motivation for less than 5% of visits taken with children during 2009 – 2012.

  • Expenditure: Visits taken with children involve significantly higher spending. During 2009 to 2012, the average amount spent during visits taken with children was £11.50, around 70% higher than the average of £6.60 spent during visits taken without children.

  • Pro-environmental behaviours: Households with children were significantly less likely to take part in pro-environmental activities. However, these households were more likely to be willing to change their lifestyles to help protect the environment, but report that they were restricted by difficulties such as lack of information or by cost.

With growing evidence demonstrating the benefits of childhood experiences in natural environments: (564kb)pdf document and recent surveys showing the vast majority of our children are losing connection with their local green spaces, it is becoming increasingly important to develop a detailed understanding of how adults and children are making use of their local environment.

The MENE survey, covering three years of survey work and drawing on interviews with over 45,000 people each year, is an important contribution to the evidence base informing our Outdoor Learning Programme and other Access and Engagement projects researching the relationship of different sectors of society with the natural environment.

To keep updated about our forthcoming MENE publications, follow us on Twitterexternal link. To read the full report ‘MENE (2009 – 2012) analysis of data related to visits with children’, visit our publications pageexternal link.

Following on from the Government’s Natural Environment White Paper, Natural England is also involved in projects to help support schools promote learning in local natural environments. This includes leading the delivery of the innovative Natural Connections Demonstration Project to around 200 schools in the South West.

Further information

Background for the MENE survey

Set up four years ago, the MENE survey was first commissioned by Natural England, Defra and the Forestry Commission to provide baseline and trend data on how people use the natural environment in England. The statistics are published online as monthly fact sheets.

The survey examines the type of destinations visited, the duration of visits, transport used during visits, the distance travelled, average amounts spent, main activities undertaken, and motivations for visiting. It collects data about people who do not visit the natural environment as well, and the reasons for this. The survey also compiles information about how people interact with nature in other ways, such as watching wildlife and volunteering. The survey is undertaken weekly across England and interviews around 45,000 people per year – giving valuable insights into how people enjoy the outdoors.

To keep track of when the MENE survey’s latest monthly statistics are published, follow us on Twitterexternal link.

Background for ‘MENE (2009 – 2012): Analysis of data related to visits with children’

This publication draws on three years’ worth of baseline data about visits to the natural environment with children, which is compiled every month by MENE (the Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment Survey). Fieldwork began in March 2009, and ran up until February 2012. During this period, around 142,000 interviews were undertaken including 42,670 with people who had children in their household. These respondents provided information on a range of topics including frequency of visits to the natural environment during this period (a sample of around 56,777 respondents overall, 19,456 with children in their household) then provided full details of one of the visits they had taken.

The objectives of commissioning this bespoke MENE report (2009 – 2012) were to:

  • Identify relevant survey findings of most relevance to the development of policy and practice in learning and play in natural environments
  • Inform opinions for the future development of the MENE survey (2012 – 2015) so that it might better capture additional data required to inform strategic progression in this area (e.g. identifying additional areas of questioning)

King’s College London

A recent report by King’s College London highlighted the significant benefits of learning in the natural environment: (564kb)pdf document, including:

  • better educational attainment
  • development of natural science skills and environmental awareness
  • improved health, social cohesion and attitudes to other children
  • better school staff morale

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