National Parks help improve young people’s health and life chances

Support for Dorset National Park

“There is compelling evidence of a growing disconnect between people and the natural environment, and yet now, more than ever before, our natural landscapes provide a vital resource in supporting the health and wellbeing of all young people” says Trevor Beattie, Chief Executive, South Downs National Park.

42% of young people say that the lockdown has made their mental health worse (ONS) and some are likely to experience depression and anxiety long after the restrictions are lifted (Bath University).  Inactivity and obesity are growing problems and many young people do not get to enjoy time outdoors. The pandemic has increased people’s awareness of the health and well-being benefits of being closer to nature and thus how essential a thriving natural environment is.

This discussion paper, Youth Engagement, Health and Well-being, shows how National Parks help young people connect with nature and so support their mental and physical health, and how they help improve fitness, educational experience and life chances. It offers ideas and examples of what can be achieved.

34.2% of 10-11 year olds were overweight in 2016/17

The estimated cost to the UK economy of physical inactivity in 11-25 year olds has been put at £53.3 billion over their lifetime

Reducing physical inactivity by just one percent a year over a five-year period would save local authorities £1.2 billion

National Parks help young people and their families experience and enjoy the great outdoors. Their work helps promote physical and mental health and wellbeing and can also help improve young people’s educational experience, family and community relationships and life chances. This is especially important for those from deprived areas.

From apprenticeship and junior ranger schemes to designing and building “wild play” areas, National Parks help develop resilient, more confident and independent young people. These schemes can also offer great value for money: in one project in the North Yorkshire Moors National Park, for every pound of investment there was 6 times as much value created for participants and society.

The discussion paper notes how a new Dorset National Park partnership at the heart of Southern England could be part of a positive and restorative vision for the future of this area with its outstanding environment including the spectacular World Heritage “Jurassic” Coast. This would chime with the Government’s manifesto commitment to create new National Parks. A Dorset National Park, as a key partner for councils, communities, the health sector and others, would build on the experiences and successes achieved by other National Parks and support a thriving, healthy, greener future for everyone including Dorset’s communities, economy and environment.

The recent Landscapes Review by Julian Glover said: “We want our nation’s most cherished landscapes to fulfil their original mission for people, providing unrivalled opportunities for enjoyment, spiritual refreshment and in turn supporting the nation’s health and wellbeing.”

Welcoming the discussion paper:

“There is compelling evidence of a growing disconnect between people and the natural environment and yet now, more than ever before, our natural landscapes provide a vital resource in supporting the health and wellbeing of all young people. Supporting young people to get inspired, to take part in life-long learning, and to move from inspiration to taking action is core to our ambitions as National Parks. This extensive report outlines the significant work National Parks are undertaking to connect young people with protected landscapes, while also acknowledging the important work ahead to develop our offer as the nation’s ‘Natural Health Service’.”

Trevor Beattie, Chief Executive, South Downs National Park Authority and Lead Officer for the National Parks UK Learning and Engagement Group

“Walking long-distance routes with friends and family was one of the highlights of my childhood. I can still remember how steep the path along the Jurassic coast seemed when I was about 10. I want everyone to get the chance to gain from experiences like that which is why we made it a central part of the recent Landscapes Review which I led. This excellent report underlines just how much it matters “

Julian Glover OBE, Chair, Landscapes Review

“As a free-range child, my whole life has been shaped by the opportunity I had, with my four sisters, to explore, play and be enthralled by the natural world.  Today, far too few children have that experience, and we know of the negative mental and physical consequences of a lack of contact with nature.

This report is packed full of evidence about what can be done, is being done and could be done so much more widely and systematically if we really cared about young people’s lives.  Let’s seize the moment to put nature, and access to it, at the heart of our plans for the future.”

Dame Fiona Reynolds DBE, Master of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, former Director-General, National Trust

“With growing recognition of the importance of the environment and access to nature for our health and wellbeing, the John Muir Trust welcomes this helpful report on the role of National Parks in encouraging and inspiring young people to experience and enjoy wild places, thus supporting their physical and mental health and wellbeing. We are delighted to work with National Parks in encouraging and helping young people and families to enjoy and care for the natural world and are interested in the possibility of a Dorset pilot project.”

Emma Reed, Award & Engagement Manager, John Muir Trust

“Now, more than ever, we understand and feel the importance of the natural environment and having access to nature. I welcome this helpful report on what National Parks are doing to encourage and inspire young people to experience, enjoy and love these special landscapes, thus supporting their physical and mental wellbeing, educational achievement, and skills. These are impressive examples which we want to build on for the future.”

Janette Ward, Chair, Campaign for National Parks (CNP)

Read the discussion paper here:







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