Another town hall meeting was held last weekend. The Citizens’ Assemblies are an opportunity for 100 Citizens’ Members to hear informed, impartial and factual advice on important national issues, which they can then report and recommend to the Houses of the Oireachtas for further debate through our elected representatives. The weekend meeting was about the loss of biodiversity.
What was more interesting for me was that parallel to the full citizens’ assembly, there was also a children’s and young people’s assembly on the loss of biodiversity, with the second meeting of this group of children and young people (aged 7-17 years) taking place next weekend.
There’s going to be a cohort of people who might not be thrilled with this, but it’s really encouraging. We are all affected by the loss of natural habitats and with it the loss of wildlife. Sometimes we can be very aware of this, for example when we drive past an area that has been leveled for construction work. More often, however, we come across rubbish that happens to litter the edges of our roads or collects in a whirlpool of a stream, river or canal, and we may not pay attention and accept that our urban and rural landscapes can be so damaged.
How many of you reading now can look back on your childhood and remember the vast green spaces of forests, farmland, or just natural vegetation that have been consumed by housing developments? We have to ask ourselves critically which living environments we pass on to our children? How rich, full and diverse will nature be in 50 or 100 years if we do nothing now? We need to talk and act about biodiversity.
One of the Irish Schools Sustainability Network (ISSN) contributions to the town hall meeting caught my eye. The ISSN is a network of students and teachers from across Ireland, established in 2019, actively working to make schools more sustainable places and seeks to empower teachers and young people to take action on the twin climate and biodiversity crises. In fact, one of their recommendations is to get the government to recognize that biodiversity loss is a crisis.
Her submission launched me on a research journey looking for the effects of nature on children’s well-being. In their submission, ISSN showed how experiential learning outdoors in natural settings has been shown to improve student well-being, creativity, curiosity, attention span and academic achievement.
One of the studies I came across was a Danish study that followed 900,000 people between 1985 and 2013. These researchers found that “Children who grew up with the least amount of green space (gardens, parks, or other natural settings) had up to a 55 percent increased risk of developing a psychiatric disorder, independent of the impact of other known risk factors.” .”
A research study last year looking at young children’s experiences with outdoor playgrounds found that when children play in an expansive, open-ended natural environment (i.e., with no defined or constrained use of the natural materials they encounter) felt better than typical playground settings, which may have been overcrowded and had a lot of artificial surfaces or materials.
A separate study commissioned by the Wildlife Trust in the UK looked at 451 children who had participated in various Trust activities such as They found that children self-reported increases in their personal well-being, sense of connection with nature, and pro-environmental values. Nine out of ten of these children thought that people should care more about their environment and protect plants and animals.
I’ve also come across research that highlights the benefits of learning spaces (in this case, natural outdoor environments) that provide children with opportunities to take physical risks (e.g., climbing trees). Such opportunities in nature allow children to develop not only physically but also socially and emotionally.
In fact, research is conclusive that natural environments are vital for children. The real danger is that such environments will disappear from the lives of some children and young people. Some of the research shows that it is early childhood education that can sow the seeds of sustainability and the need to protect these environments in the future. Biodiversity is all the more high on our national agenda.
I congratulate all groups and individuals who submitted contributions to the two gatherings. Hopefully, together with children, young people and adults, we can stop the loss of biodiversity, the biodiversity that is so crucial for the future of our children.
https://www.independent.ie/life/family/parenting/dr-david-coleman-natural-environments-are-crucial-to-childrens-healthy-development-so-we-must-protect-them-42077641.html dr David Coleman: Natural environments are critical to children’s healthy development, so we must protect them