The outdoor child should be an ‘indicator species’ for London

pond dippingMy new draft report  Sowing the Seeds: Reconnecting children with nature calls for the outdoor child to be seen as an ‘indicator species’. The report, written for the London Sustainable Development Commission (the body that advises the Mayor of London on sustainability) argues that, just as with salmon or house sparrows, the presence of children out of doors should be seen as a measure of the quality of neighbourhoods, London Boroughs and the capital as a whole.

The report offers a new vision for London’s children, calling for the Mayor and key agencies to ensure that “all children under 12 in London have good access to sites where they can experience nature as part of their everyday lives and have engaging everyday nature experiences in such a site, beginning in their pre-school years”. A central message is that  experiences of nature that are hands-on and play-oriented are especially valuable.

The report gives London’s decision makers a blueprint for responding to concerns about children’s growing disconnection from the natural environment, as highlighted in Richard Louv’s book Last Child in the Woods: Saving our children from nature-deficit disorder. Research for the report included a new systematic review of studies into the benefits for children of time spent in nature. The project also carried out the first comprehensive assessment of London’s natural initiatives for children, covering activities in schools, nature areas, play projects, parks and public spaces, and community and voluntary organisations.

Here are the 12 recommendations in brief:

  1. Adopt a clear vision
  2. Create a London wide partnership
  3. Embed children and nature aims in relevant London wide policies and strategies
  4. Identify geographical priorities using new GIS analyses
  5. Measure progress and set goals to drive delivery
  6. Pilot health interventions for targeted groups of children
  7. Promote hands-on, play-oriented experiences and interventions
  8. Promote better use of accessible green space
  9. Promote forest school
  10. Promote engaging everyday nature experiences in school grounds
  11. Promote risk-benefit assessment
  12. Promote children’s participation

2 girls making daisy chains with dandelionsWhat do you think – are these the right actions? Which ones are the most important? Is anything missing? Give your thoughts here. Let the LSDC know as well. A four-page executive summary and response form are available on the LSDC website. The report and recommendations are out for consultation until 1 September, and a final version is due to be launched on 30 September. Anyone interested in obtaining the full draft report should email the LSDC at

11 responses to “The outdoor child should be an ‘indicator species’ for London

  1. Tim, with the government embarking on an attempt to measure the `happiness’ of the UK, surely children are an indicator species for the health of the entire nation? What you propose for London should apply nationally. Will you be saying that in the report?


  2. Neil, thanks for this. Your point is well made, and I agree. I think the report will best make the wider case by sticking to its terms of reference – ie London – and hopefully acting as a beacon and benchmark for others. Needless to say we would like national bodies to make use of it in their own advocacy work for children.

  3. Tim,
    Great to see you’ve been able to focus some energy specifically on the nature conversation. And taking the valuable step to create tangible blueprints is so needed to drive this forward. Your recommendations are clear and well stated. I’m curious how government will interpret the word ‘promote’ – and whether it is strong enough to lead them to action and commitment . . . My quick thoughts – I look forward to reading the whole report. This is exciting follow up to our conversations at Healthy Children Healthy Spaces last November. Cheers, Becs

    • Thanks for this comment Becs, and nice to hear from you. The full report will give more detail on the final recommendations. Though much of the flesh – eg specific targets and indicators – will only emerge as and when the agenda gets taken forward by London’s key agencies and decision makers. Watch this space!

  4. I believe an important thing to remember is that although green spaces are vital for all of us, especially children all open spaces can and should be child-friendly. Interesting, physical and imaginative spaces should be encouraged everywhere. Street furniture make great play structures for children – from walls for balancing on, railings for swing on to those fold out signposts that make great little houses. Bushes ans small trees are also interesting. Often what is needed are visual cues so that parents feel that they are allowed to let their children play, and places for adults to sit and watch their children play. Rather than the prevalent idea that pavemented public spaces are unsuitable – and children should only play in designated, destination green spaces (often poor quality).

    • I agree we should design as much of the public realm as possible to be playable – and signal this through visual cues. Hard landscaping can be designed to be very playable – just look at London’s South Bank. The planning guidance I wrote for the GLA made these points. As I mentioned in a post in July 2011, this is to be revised and hopefully improved.

  5. Pingback: London moves to reconnect children with nature | Rethinking Childhood

  6. Hi Tim, I’m a playgroup leader of a setting in North Yorkshire and am nearing the end of my BA (Hons) degree in YCLD and EYPS validation. I am just about to quote your report as part of my justification for wanting to create a bog garden in my setting in one of my modules! I always say that the children in my setting learn to count by the number of worms/woodlice they hold in their hands that they have discovered under the tubs. It would be wonderful if all children could have this experience.

  7. Pingback: London moves to reconnect children with nature « Getting Kids Outdoors in Emmet County

  8. Pingback: » The outdoor child should be an ‘indicator species’ for London Early Years Teacher

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