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Why is outdoor learning important for our planet?

Updated: Mar 26, 2022

by Joe Wilkins

"Saltmarshes are incredibly important."

said Dr Horgan, a volunteer at my primary school,

"look at those lapwings feeding at the edge of the grass there".

Andreas Trepte,

I looked over to see the pair of birds with their distinctive head feathers, fascinated by it all.

Dr Horgan continued;

"But they are also vulnerable to the changes that we humans are making. You can see over there how the diggers have ripped some out."

This conversation between a 9-year-old and their teacher may seem unimportant, and you might be questioning why you're reading it at all. But I promise it has a purpose. This conversation, at a local nature reserve on the Dyfi Estuary, sparked my interest in coastal habitats and the impacts they are facing. Being there and seeing the impacts of our activity on this incredible habitat with its mosaic pattern of pools, grass and sand made something click in my mind.

N Chadwick, Aberdyfi Salt Marsh

Creative Commons Licence

My journey to becoming an environmentalist

This, and other experiences outdoors, kick-started my journey to becoming an environmentalist and conservationist. This journey has taken me far from the peaceful wetlands of the Dyfi Estuary. Most recently, this was a trip to the Scottish city of Glasgow which was anything but peaceful.

The eyes of the world were on the city for the United Nations Climate Change Conference known as COP26. A meeting to discuss the issues and solutions related to climate change, this was the most important meeting since COP21 in Paris. I will be sharing some more thoughts on COP26 in a later post but today I wanted to focus on something more specific.

I was fortunate to be able to attend the conference and chat to other environmentalists from a range of fields including psychology, finance, art and science. But chatting with them and listening to many of the panellists in various, complicatedly named workshops, it wasn't hard to spot a common theme emerging in their backstories.

"Every person expressed the importance of their experiences of being outdoors in nature." - Joe Wilkins

This was a global phenomenon. People from across the world were stating the importance of being in nature in inspiring their own journeys to protect the planet. They had each had their 'Dyfi Estuary' moment.

Being outdoors is important for our planetary health

We're reminded of the importance of nature and being outdoors on our mental and physical health. But it goes beyond this. Being outdoors is important for our planetary health. Renowned oceanographer Jacques Cousteau expressed this concisely when he said:

"People will protect what they love." - Jacques Cousteau

Whilst we can develop an understanding of the natural world from textbooks and documentaries, there is no substitute for being outdoors. The act of being outdoors and learning about the land/seascape, taking part in activities such as hiking, canoeing, bouldering, they all contribute to building a relationship with the outdoor world, nature, and our planet. Building a love for the world around us, not just an understanding.

© A Daimond, 'a chid enjoying exploring a rocky shore'

We need to provide opportunities for all to nurture a passion for nature.

The events of the last year have highlighted the disparities in access to nature. Those in urban areas, from marginalised communities, and those most affected by the pandemic have been shown to have statistically less access to green and blue space. High-quality, accessible outdoor education is essential for the wellbeing of individuals, our communities and the planet. Providing a platform for people to access this education is vital. Many people may not have access to equipment or feel confident to participate in these spaces alone. Whilst many have stated that the lockdown has brought them closer to their local wildlife, we now need to provide opportunities for all to nurture this passion for nature.

If all of these climate activists and environmentalists are stating the importance of their formative experiences with nature, it begs a question: why isn't outdoor education, and those incredible organisations working to provide it, given greater support?

With all the focus on technological solutions and industrial changes with grants thrown out for the next silver-bullet to "solve climate change", are we neglecting a key component in our mission to protect our planet? Nelson Mandela said:

"education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” - Nelson Mandela

I believe that outdoor education will prove vital to solving the issues of climate change and biodiversity loss.

"I believe that outdoor education will prove vital to solving the issues of climate change and biodiversity loss."
- Joe Wilkins

The Wales Council for Outdoor Learning are gathering quotes from people in Wales to see what they love about being outdoors. Please share your love of the outdoors with us and share the link below with your networks. Thank you.

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