In 1976 the Welsh author and academic Raymond Williams suggested that nature might be the most complex word in the English language. The term is fraught with unanswered questions. Are we part of nature? Is urbanisation natural? What constitutes a natural environment? Where can these be found today? What exactly should we be doing in nature?… Arguably, the term is even more subjective in contemporary society, which can leave us a bit baffled on how to confront the widespread epidemic, if you like, of Nature Deficit Disorder.
Hannah Pritt, academic at Cardiff University, suggests that whilst getting children outdoors gives us a simple ‘cure’ to nature deficit disorder, two key questions need to be answered first and foremost. Firstly, What is nature? In many national surveys and definitions the very concept of nature differs wildly and is highly subjective. Natural England’s survey, for example, counts a range of places including urban parks, mountain or moorland, children’s playgrounds and allotments, even private back gardens as a natural environment. But how similar are these places in reality? How different is playing in a park to hiking over Mooreland and are these really likely to have the same effect on the child? Probably not is the honest answer and this is an issue we need to address. By understanding the differences and which aspects of nature have a positive effect on the development of the child, it can become possible to plan environments, which support positive and healthy engagement.
Secondly, it is commonly thought that just ‘being’ outdoors is enough to satisfy our nature deficit. However, Pritt’s research suggests that what we do in nature is just as pivotal as the physical location. Should we be biking, hiking, sitting, eating or foraging? Or any of the above? A coherent answer seems to be nowhere to be found and evidently there are major gaps in research and understanding of this fundamental and complex social issue. Furthermore, is our cultural interpretation of the natural world discriminative? The notion of the ‘great outdoors’ , according to Pritt, is somewhat discriminatory and could be the source of disinterest for different cultural groups in engaging with the natural world. In order to address the Nature Deficit Disorder, then, we should hold an understanding the cultural differences present within our society and work to formulate a range of activities in order to include each societal and cultural group.
Easier said than done I hear you say? Well, yes I agree. However, this article highlights the significance of research into nature deficit disorder in order to give educators and parents an idea of what exactly should we be aiming for. Perhaps a great starting place would be to look at life before nature deficit disorder and what children were doing in the past that allowed them to live arguably more healthy and wholesome childhoods…