Nature shouldn’t be something we watch on TV – it’s on all our doorsteps

Everyone who has young kids is well aware that they spend far too much time staring at screens – if we let them. But did you know that most children in the UK spend less time outdoors each week than a prisoner spends in the exercise yard?

Yes, that’s right. Excluding the time they spend travelling to school, 62% of British children spend less then five hours per week outdoors. How can we hope that they will ever fully understand the great environmental challenges we are all facing if they don’t engage directly with the real natural world on their doorsteps? As Sir David Attenborough says: ‘No-one will protect what they don’t care about and no-one will care about what they have never experienced’.

The Iceland Foods Charitable Foundation – of which I am very proud to be a trustee – has just made a very big commitment to addressing this challenge by funding an exciting new campaign called Backyard Nature.

This isn’t some highfalutin project dreamt up the great and the good. It was directly inspired by a group of children from Anfield in Liverpool, who call themselves the Eco Emeralds. Having watched Our Planet and other TV documentaries, and read a lot about the threat of climate change, they approached us for help. We had already started working with community platform Semble to devise ways to help children connect with nature, and the Eco Emeralds played a key role in showing us the way forward.

Backyard Nature, as the name suggests, is all about encouraging and supporting children to spend more time outdoors, connecting with the natural world and protecting the wildlife on their doorsteps. We hope that as many youngsters as possible will go to the Backyard Nature website to identify their local patch of greenery, sign up, encourage their friends to join them, and become ‘nature guardians’.


Richard Walker (MD Iceland) with ‘Eco Emeralds’ schoolchildren at the launch @Coram’s fields in London.

This campaign is designed to reach all UK children – but particularly the four million of them who are now living in poverty.  These kids face a very real challenge as they take on the mantle of being ‘nature guardians’ and sorting out the global environmental crisis they have inherited.

Research tells us that they are disconnected from nature because of their low family incomes, but it’s important to recognise that three million of them belong to ‘working poor’ families – which means their parents are often working long hours and are severely time limited as well. We know that 1.6 million children like these haven’t even been to a park in the last year, let alone visited a beach or gone on holiday.

As a community retailer with almost 950 stores across the UK, we serve customers from every socio-economic group – but, having mapped our store locations against official data, we know that we also have a significant overlap with areas of high deprivation. We reach these struggling children and their parents every week. Because of that, and encouraged by our 25,000 store colleagues, we decided it was time to act to support them.

This is why we aim to inspire a million hours of nature engagement for kids in our most challenged communities, on their own doorstep, over the next 18 months. We want to appeal to the child living in a block of flats, or with a tiny backyard, as much to those who have access to more space outdoors. We want them to help them grow plants, spot butterflies and bees, and to take small actions to help nature and wildlife.

Backyard Nature will work with and provide a channel for like-minded organisations, to help them extend their amazing work into more neighbourhoods. We already have the support of the Bat Conservation Trust; Bumblebee Conservation Trust; Clarion Housing Association; Fauna and Flora; Froglife; Hoop (an activity app for parents of young children); Hubbub; the Kendal Mountain Festival; Landscapes for Learning; National Trust; Ordnance Survey ; Plantlife; Seedball.co.uk; The Wildlife Trusts; and WWF.

We are also honoured and absolutely delighted that our new campaign has the support of HRH The Duchess of Cambridge.

Richard Walker (MD Iceland) with ‘Eco Emeralds’ schoolchildren at the launch @Coram’s fields in London.

The Backyard Nature website will help people find their nearest green space and adopt their own ‘patch’, find partner activities in their neighbourhood, share partner resources for learning and activity, and be the base for a community to share ideas and experiences.  We will also engage with the five million people who visit our stores each week and the three million customers we engage with online.

Please visit the campaign’s new website at www.backyardnature.org to learn more, or go to ‘Backyard Nature’ on Facebook@BackyardNatUK on Instagram; and @IcelandCharity / #Backyard Nature on Twitter. And, most importantly, pleaseand encourage all the children in your lives to get stuck in and join us!

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