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Making the Connection: major project launches to help children learn outdoors

A ground-breaking project which aims to significantly increase the number of school-aged children experiencing the full range of benefits that come from learning outside the classroom in natural environments has been launched yesterday at Glenfrome Primary School, Bristol.

The Natural Connections Demonstration Project is set to run for the next three years and aims to work with 40,000 children in 200 schools across the South West from Cornwall to Bristol. Funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), Natural England and English Heritage, and delivered by Plymouth University, it is one of the largest outdoor learning projects in the UK.

Despite increasingly robust evidence demonstrating the benefits of childhood experiences taking place in nature, recent surveys show that the vast majority of our children are rapidly losing connection with their local natural environments. Children from deprived communities are particularly disadvantaged, and the aim of Natural Connections is to support teachers working in schools which currently provide little or no learning in natural environments.

The project will support teachers in taking over 40,000 children outside to learn, using activities and venues to inspire both children and teachers to excel in subjects from across the whole curriculum. From mathematics to music, biology to physics, languages to literature – the aim is to enable children to access the benefits of learning outside.

Evidence shows that teachers face a number of challenges when planning lessons outside – from uncertainty about where to access high quality learning resources, to lack of knowledge about suitable and accessible locations for outdoor learning experiences.

The Natural Connections Demonstration Project will:

  • Work closely with teachers and local providers of outdoor activities to find the most appropriate support to meet teachers’ needs for supporting ‘learning in natural environments’.

  • Create a sustainable support network, encouraging collaboration with other schools, and fostering links with local communities by recruiting up to 500 volunteers over the three-year period to help teachers deliver outdoor learning.

  • Identify ‘beacon schools’ that are already actively engaged with outdoor learning. Beacon schools will support other local schools which provide little or no regular learning outside the classroom.

  • Deliver at a local level through five ‘hubs’ in Plymouth, Torbay, Cornwall, North Somerset and Bristol. A key feature of the project is to test this regional model, which could then be replicated in other parts of the country. 

To complement today’s Natural Connections launch, an online resource has been specially created for teachers. For the first time, teachers can easily find local support in one place. They can find outdoor lesson plans and places to visit, share ideas and experiences, and identify sources of additional funding for outdoor projects.  This new service is being hosted on Farming and Countryside Education’s (FACE) Growing Schools web site: .

The web service will go live on Friday 5 July, to coincide with ‘Empty Classroom Day’ –
a day which celebrates all the teaching activities which already take place in the fresh air, and to encourage even more outdoor learning in the future.


Richard Benyon, Minister for the Environment, said:
“Every child should have the opportunity to experience and learn about nature. This initiative will help to remove the barriers to schools teaching outdoors, and let more children learn how and why they should care about their local parks and other green spaces.”

Poul Christensen, Chair of Natural England, said:
“This is a truly innovative project, and a fantastic example of everyone working together to make nature’s classroom accessible to the very children who need it the most. It represents a more integrated way of working, gives schools and teachers more of what they need, and it will streamline local support – making it more accessible and effective.”

Sue Waite, Plymouth University’s Lead for Natural Connections, said: 
“We’re aiming for volunteers and community groups to help deliver a multitude of exciting learning activities in natural green spaces near to schools, with the aim of energising and motivating the pupils and improving their overall performance. Teachers are being supported to maximise opportunities for outdoor learning. Natural Connections is a unique programme and has the potential to forge even stronger connections between local communities and schools.”

Inger O’Callaghan, Head Teacher at Glenfrome Primary School, Bristol, said:
“We know that learning outside in local green spaces can have a wonderful, transformative effect on children. Their physical health and mental wellbeing improve, their behaviour and attitudes change, and their knowledge of the subjects also deepens. It’s a win-win situation for teachers, children and their families.”

Sandra Stancliffe, Head of Education at English Heritage, said:
“This is one of the most significant education projects happening today and English Heritage is delighted to support it. Natural Connections complements perfectly our Heritage Schools programme and we are working closely together so that a new generation of children can experience the joy and wonder that learning about our natural and built heritage brings.”

Notes to Editors

1. Natural Connections Demonstration Project

Despite increasingly robust evidence on the benefits of childhood experiences in natural environments, recent surveys show that the vast majority of our children are rapidly losing connection with their local natural environments and those children from deprived communities are particularly disadvantaged. The pace of change is profound and undoubtedly contributing to major challenges facing society today – including the rise in childhood obesity and mental health issues; the struggle to build a sense of place and community; and the need to address climate change and develop pro-environmental behaviours.

Evidence also shows that learning in natural environments can transform individual and school performance by increasing the standards of teaching and learning, allowing innovation and excellence in curriculum delivery and increasing motivation and attainment. Economic assessments indicate that failure to act quickly will result in major educational, health and environmental costs.

2. About Plymouth University

Consistently ranked as one of the leading universities in the UK, and awarded a Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education in 2012, Plymouth has a strong record of excellence, enterprise and innovation across its teaching and research activities. Distinguished by its long-term engagement with business and the community, the University enjoys outstanding links with employers and plays a key role in civic and regional leadership. It is the only university in the world to have been awarded the Social Enterprise Mark in recognition of its work in support of the sector.

With around 30,000 students, including those studying higher education at its partner colleges throughout the South West, the University is one of largest in the UK. It enjoys a high rate of graduate employment and has recently invested more than £150 million in its estate and facilities to enhance the student experience and support world-class research.

Plymouth has embedded sustainability across its operations, and is the overall best performing university in the People & Planet Green League. It is the first modern university to found a medical and dental school – the Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry – and is the leading provider of Higher Education in Cornwall. For more information, visit

Plymouth University press office contact:
Andrew Merrington / 01752 588 004 /

3. About Natural England

Natural England is the government’s independent adviser on the natural environment. Established in 2006 its work is focused on enhancing England’s wildlife and landscapes and maximising the benefits they bring to the public.
- It establishes and cares for England’s main wildlife and geological sites, ensuring that over 4,000 National Nature Reserves and Sites of Special Scientific Interest are looked after and improved.
- It works to ensure that England’s landscapes are effectively protected, designating England’s National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and advising widely on their conservation.
- It runs Environmental Stewardship and other green farming schemes that deliver over £400 million a year to farmers and landowners, enabling them to enhance the natural environment across two thirds of England’s farmland.
- It funds, manages, and provides scientific expertise for hundreds of conservation projects each year, improving the prospects for thousands of England’s species and habitats.
- It promotes access to the wider countryside, helping establish National Trails and coastal trails and ensuring that the public can enjoy and benefit from them.

Natural England press office contact:
Lyndon Marquis / 0300 060 4236 /

4. About Farming & Countryside Education (FACE)

Farming and Countryside Education (FACE) is the leading charity providing food, farming and countryside education to children. FACE believes that this should be through practical, interesting and enjoyable activities in the classroom and outdoors.

FACE has a highly successful network of partners across the country, with a wide range of schools, farms, retailers, industry bodies and government departments.

FACE wants all children to understand where their food comes from, how it is produced, how the countryside is maintained and to learn to make informed choices. FACE also believes that children need to experience farm and countryside visits for themselves for this to happen.

FACE provides inspiration, advice and guidance for school staff, chiefly through its regional team, who have a background in education. The FACE website , newsletters and e-mailings highlight these opportunities for teachers. FACE also builds links between schools and trained farmers and countryside educators to provide high quality school visits. 

Registered charity number: 1108241

5. About English Heritage

English Heritage is the Government’s statutory advisor on the historic environment.  We provide advice on how best to conserve England’s heritage for the benefit of everyone.  While most of England’s heritage is in private hands, we work with all who come into contact with it  –  landowners, businesses, planners and developers, national, regional and local government, the Third Sector, local communities and the general public  –  to help them understand, value, care for and enjoy England’s historic environment.
We are also entrusted with the custodianship of over 400 sites and monuments which together form the national collection of built and archaeological heritage. These include some of the most important monuments of human history such as Stonehenge and Hadrian’s Wall.  For further information about our work, visit

English Heritage press office contact:

Debbie Hickman, Communications Manager SE, SW and East of England
020 7973 3855 / 07770 581 946 /

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