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Primary schoolchildren should spend at least one hour a day learning and playing in wild places to help improve their wellbeing and confidence, a leading conservation organisation has said.

The Wildlife Trusts, which represents 46 local organisations and 2,300 nature reserves in the UK, has called on the next government to create a network of wild spaces where young people are free to climb trees, learn about wildlife and connect with the natural world while at school.

Outdoor teaching in the UK should be used to help children develop a personal connection with nature and pursue their own passions, whether it be searching for frog spawn, building dens or climbing trees, according the the organisation.

The recommendations follow a study for the trust by the Institute of Education, part of University College London (UCL), which found strong positive benefits for the self-worth and confidence of primary schoolchildren after taking part in activities in wild places.

The conservation organisation said an hour a day outdoors for all British children aged four to 11 would help re-establish the connection between young people and nature in the UK.

In 2015, a YouGov survey for the trust found less than one in 10 British children have access to natural areas compared to 40% of adults when they were younger. Only half of children said their school had an outdoor nature area, 37% had never seen a hedgehog and most children surveyed had never found frog spawn in a pond.

For the study, UCL researchers found the overwhelming majority of children surveyed had learned something about the natural world, felt more confident and had better relationships with their classmates after spending time outdoors.

The academics surveyed 451 children in 12 areas across England before and after participating in activities ran by a wildlife trust like identifying plants and trees, also interviewing teachers and Wildlife Trust educators.

Of the children interviewed, 79% said the experience could help their school work, 84% felt they were capable of doing new things and 79% reported feeling more confident.

Nigel Doar, the Wildlife Trusts’ director of strategy, said: “This research shows that children experience profound and diverse benefits through regular contact with nature. Contact with the wild improves children’s wellbeing, motivation and confidence. The data also highlights how children’s experiences in and around the natural world led to better relationships with their teachers and classmates.

“The Wildlife Trusts believe everyone should have the opportunity to experience the joy of wildlife in daily life and we’re calling on government to recognise the multiple benefits of nature for children – and ensure that at least one hour per school day is spent outdoors learning and playing in wild places.”

Prof Michael Reiss, Institute of Education, UCL, said: “Each generation seems to have less contact with the outdoors than the preceding one. We owe it to all young people to reverse this trend – for their sakes, for our sakes and for nature’s sake.”

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The Gaurdian

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