Nature time important for inspiring future generations

| July 26, 2013

This Sunday is National Tree Day. Debbie Agnew from Planet Ark explains why in a society that spends less time outdoors and is increasingly time-poor, it is even more important to incorporate nature time into your life.

Backyards and spending time in the great outdoors have traditionally been at the heart of the Australian identity, along with barbeques, hills hoists and cricket games with the family.

However, with the Australian way of life changing due to shrinking backyards, time-poor families and increased screen time, it’s more important than ever to covet our backyards and green spaces, make them places that we want to spend time in and teach future generations about their benefits.

Recent research commissioned by Planet Ark for National Tree Day shows that the laid-back outdoor culture we pride ourselves on is being eroded. For every hour we spend outside, we spend over seven hours in front of screens watching television or on the Internet. Around 1 in 3 people spend less than 18 minutes per day doing outdoor recreational activities, which is about the same amount of time it takes to hang out a load of washing or for me to have my breakfast and enjoy a coffee.

The research clearly showed that, for both adults and children, the larger their backyard, the more time they spend doing outdoor activities.

Backyards and green spaces play an important role in Australian cities and towns, for both the environment and the health and wellbeing of individuals and wider communities.

The benefits of contact with nature for adults and children alike have been well-documented and include physical and mental health benefits such as such as reduced symptoms of ADHD, reduced stress levels and reduced depression, reduced risks of obesity and myopia and improved creativity academic performance.

Previous research has also found that there is a concern that if future generations don’t learn about the importance of nature, they may be less inclined to look after it.

While most Australians over 30 are likely to have clear childhood memories of playing in their backyard, for the first time in a number of generations, many children today are likely to have a very different set of memories.

In light of these findings, we at Planet Ark are encouraging everyone, particularly children, to spend regular time outside engaged with nature, in backyards, parks and other green spaces.

An easy way to start is to get involved in National Tree Day, the country’s biggest tree planting and nature care initiative. Each year participants get together with their school, council or community group to beautify neighbourhoods and inspire positive environmental change.

This year, to make it even easier to get involved, individuals can organise a personal planting site at their home with their family, friends and neighbours, in backyards, nature strips or along their streets (with the local council’s thumbs up). You can even run a planting site on your verandah, deck, balcony or street by using pots, planters or hanging gardens and getting creative.

National Tree Day serves as a great reminder to get outside, get your hands dirty and have fun while doing something positive and tangible for your local environment.

When planting in your backyard, there are lots of native tree and shrub options local to your area to choose from to encourage birds and other wildlife to your garden, including plenty of smaller species that won’t grow to towering heights. Bush tucker, vegetables and herbs can be a great option for children to learn about how food grows.

Planet Ark’s top ideas to incorporate nature time into your life:

  • Build some nature time into your daily commute – get off the train or bus or park your car near a park and walk through it on your way to work. On your way home at the end of the day, spend 10 to 15 minutes walking or running around the park or even just relaxing under a tree.
  • Replace one gym session per week, or supplement your gym time, with some outdoor exercise – many parks have outdoor gym equipment and most areas have walking tracks and bike paths.
  • Australia is blessed with stunning national parks and reserves, incorporating miles of walking and bike trails. Check out the national parks website in your state or territory to find your closest national park and schedule a weekly or fortnightly bushwalk, trail run, bike ride or even just a picnic or barbecue. Investigate local bushwalking and other outdoor adventure groups in your area if you’d prefer to have company, or invite a friend along.
  • Schedule in one alfresco meal per week in your backyard or local park – most parks have barbecues or you could simply have a picnic. Keep a picnic set and rug in the car – if you’re out and about and the mood strikes, pick up a newspaper and some treats from the supermarket or deli and have an impromptu picnic.
  • Create a small vegetable garden in your backyard or a balcony garden in pots, or join your local community garden. You’ll not only get a regular dose of nature, you’ll also be rewarded with tasty produce and save on food costs
  • Include attractive outdoor features in your backyard that encourage you to spend more time outside – a seating area, fountain, garden statue, patio, gazebo or bird bath are just some ideas.
  • Do your children have favourite indoor games or activities they could do outside? Activities like drawing, craft, jigsaws, board games, model making, and even homework, could all be done on a portable table in the backyard or at a local park. Encourage your children to find leaves, seeds, sticks or other natural objects to draw or use in their craft projects.