Nature–deficit disorder is not a formal diagnosis, but a way to describe the psychological, physical and cognitive costs of human alienation from nature, particularly for children in their vulnerable developing years.
Unlike television, nature does not steal time; it amplifies it. Nature offers healing for a child living in a destructive family or neighborhood. Richard Louv
Children run riot, climbing crumbling factory walls, spraying paint, cutting down vegetation, defining spaces, manipulating materials and sharing thoughts, feelings and ideas.
“It’s like a children’s wonderland” exclaims a visitor from the YMCA in awe at the joy a disused ex-industrial wasteland provides for young people.
“I never knew this place was here” comments a teacher who has brought students from a local school to take part.
We are running a morning of activities for 20 children aged 8-14 at Burlsem Port, a disused section of canal transformed, through neglect, into a natural wilderness.
I started working in this space in 2016, following an artistic vision of children escaping their urban lives and returning to the wild.
The Feral Spaces project investigates the question: How can children in disadvantaged urban areas connect with wild spaces and what impact does it have on their sense of well being?
There is a growing body of evidence that children increasingly missing out on outdoor play is a cause for concern.
Fewer than a quarter of children regularly use their local patch of nature and less than one in ten children regularly play in wild spaces. Natural England.
The area around urban children’s homes where they are able to freely roam has decreased by 90% in the space of one generation. Gaster.
Possible links between lack of outdoor play and rising levels of childhood obesity (Health survey for England 2008), increasing levels of screen time in children (Sigman, 2007) and a raise in mental health issues in children (Office of National Statistics, 2004) have led to a number of interventions, such as the National Trust’s 50 things to do before you’re 11 ¾ , designed to reconnect children with nature.
The Feral Spaces project is currently building relationships with local schools. A research project in partnership with Derby University and the Canal and River Trust is evaluating the impact of our activities on students well being. This research will be published in Autumn 2018 and will support the development of a Feral Spaces training program for schools interested in developing disused wild spaces into sites for well being.