Inspiring new initiative is launched to connect families with nature

A major new initiative to connect families with nature through fun outdoor learning experiences has been launched.

Inspired by the “founding father” of the National Park movement, John Muir, the South Downs National Park Trust is announcing a new scheme that will see families across the region getting out into the National Park and learning more about the amazing natural environment.

The initiative will be aimed at families, particularly in inner city or highly-urbanised locations near the National Park, where children and their parents have had little to no access to wild places such as the South Downs.

To kickstart the new John Muir Families Outreach programme, a series of “starter packs” – a rucksack full of outdoor essentials such as maps, walking boots, binoculars, waterproofs, and nature guides – are being purchased. These will be funded through the newly-launched National Parks Futures Fund, an initiative between National Parks and Forest Holidays.

Richard Palmer, from Forest Holidays, joined the South Downs National Park’s Education Officer, Jonathan Dean, and Helene Rossiter, from the National Parks Partnership, for the launch of the scheme at Cissbury Ring in West Sussex.

The starter packs will be given to selected community centres and children’s centres across the South East as families are encouraged to learn about the environment.

And, with the help of donors, The Trust, the official charity for the South Downs National Park, will also be funding a dedicated two-year outreach post to deliver the project.

Families taking part in the scheme will be encouraged to complete a John Muir award, a national environmental award that encourages people of all backgrounds to connect with, enjoy and care for wild places. These activities will take place during school holidays.

Richard Palmer, Director at Forest Holidays, said: “Unlike so many wild places in the country, the South Downs has a huge advantage because there are so many people living nearby.

“Forest Holidays shares the National Park’s ambition to connect more people with nature and is committed to opening up new opportunities for people to experience these special landscapes first-hand.”

The John Muir Award is a flexible scheme that sees participants completing four challenges –discovering a wild place, exploring its wildlife, taking responsibility to conserve it, and then sharing their experience.

Jonathan explained: “Some families who live near the South Downs National Park have never have had the opportunity to explore it. This could be for any number of reasons: the cost of travel, perceived barriers or simply lack of awareness.

“We hope this scheme will help those families discover the fun there is to be had in the great outdoors while earning themselves a nationally-recognised environmental award.

“The John Muir Award is simple and flexible, there’s very little paperwork, which means more time for fun! The first steps could be as simple as a family going for a walk in the South Downs, starting to identify some common species before undertaking some conservation work and finally sharing and celebrating their achievements. Participants gain an appreciation of the natural world and feel empowered to take action to care for it. The brothers and sisters who complete the award with their families this year might be starting their next award with their own children.”

Trevor Beattie, Chief Executive of the South Downs National Park Authority, added: “John Muir was one of the founding fathers of the National Park conservation movement and his legacy lives on today by inspiring people of all ages to get close to nature.

 “This generous funding from Forest Holidays will support a brand-new initiative in the South Downs, allowing us to expand the range of activities we are able to offer families. Our new John Muir Outreach Programme will encourage families to connect with, enjoy, and care for the South Downs, its special landscape and incredible biodiversity.

 “With two million people living within 5km of our National Park, we know this funding will make a real difference and allow many more people to benefit from the many health, well-being and educational opportunities in the South Downs.”

The outreach programme in the South Downs is part of a wider national scheme called ‘National Parks Futures’, which coincides with 2019 being the 70th anniversary of National Parks. Over the next five years, the joint initiative between the UK National Parks and Forest Holidays will connect 20,000 young people with nature and deliver at least 15 flagship education projects across the UK.