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NEWS RELEASE No: 133291 MARCH 2010

Free outdoor play scheme launched to combat child health problems

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children enjoying den activity

Forestry Commission and Play England are joining forces to offer free play opportunities in forests from 13-21 March. The week will highlight the health benefits of outdoor play and that children today are playing outside far less than ever before, as recent statistics show:

Adults stated that they played outdoors 40% of the time as children, children today only did this for 10% of their time (Natural England, 2009).
The attraction of TV and computer entertainment has increased, in a survey the average child spent nearly 5 hours a day in front of a screen (Childwise, 2009).
31% of boys and 30% of girls are in the obese or overweight category (NHS Information Centre, 2009) due to bad diet and physical inactivity.
28% of boys and 37% of girls age 2-15 are not meeting the recommended 60 minutes of moderate intensity exercise a day (NHS Information Centre, 2009).

Children can take part in fun outdoor activities for free during Outdoor Play Week at Forestry Commission centres across the South East. Activities range from den building and fire making, cycling and mini-beast hunts and children from age two and upwards can come and join the fun.

Research by Rebecca Lovell, Social and Economic Research Group at the Forestry Commission (2009) shows that levels of moderate to vigorous physical exercise is reached for just 20-30 minutes on an average school day, compared with 1.5 hours on a day spent at a forest school.

A key finding from another study by Jenny Roe, (Openspace 2009) found that forest settings also had the ability to stabilise and reduce anger across all children. Anger in young people is linked with reduced physical and mental health, depression and increased anti-social behaviour.

Research by Liz O'Brien, Deputy Head of Social and Economic Research Group at the Forestry Commission, found that children attending Forest School sessions gained increased confidence, better social skills, improved language and communication, improved physical skills and better motivation and concentration.

Liz O'Brien, said:

"Outdoor play has lots of all round benefits for children, including increasing their physical exercise. It helps to improve mood in the short term and confidence and self-esteem in the longer term, especially for those with mental health or behavioural problems.

"When playing outdoors children are also more likely to meet other children and improve social skills, an opportunity which doesn't arise at home. Being outside in nature puts children in touch with their senses and has a restorative effect, also helping them to cope with stress."

Outdoor Play Week is an initiative supported by the Department of Health, Natural England, Play England and Wellbeing South East.

For further information please visit,, or for help with organising your own Outdoor Play Week event visit the

1. A recent report suggests that children and young people (aged 5-16) spend on average 2.7 hours per day watching television, and 1 in 10 say they watch more than 4 hours per day (Childwise, 2009). The report highlights that almost all of those surveyed had a computer at home and nearly five and a half hours a day are spent in front of a screen.
-Childwise monitor report 2008/9.

2. A survey undertaken for Natural England asked questions of adults and children about their contact with nature (Natural England, 2009). Adults were asked to talk about what they had done as children and the survey found that although adults stated that they had played outdoors 40% of the time as children, children today only did this for 10% of their time.
-Natural England. 2009. Childhood and nature: a survey on changing relationships with nature across generations. Report to Natural England by England Marketing, Cambridgeshire.

3. Lovell (2009) looked at children at a Forest School in Edinburgh and found they did more physical activity in the wood than when they were in school or the playground.
-Lovell, R. 2009. An evaluation of physical activity at Forest School. Research Note for Forestry Commission, Edinburgh.

4. Participation in outdoor activities such as volunteering and Forest School can lead to particular benefits in terms of increases in self esteem and confidence. There are improvements in social skills when activities include team related work (O’Brien and Murray, 2007).
-O’Brien, L and Murray, R. 2007. Forest School and its impacts on young children: case studies in Britain. Urban Forestry and Urban Greening, 6: 249-265.

5. The Forestry Commission manages over 250,000 hectares (600,000 acres) of woodlands in England. Most of this land is open for public access and the Commission is the largest provider of countryside recreation in the country. For further information visit

The Forestry Commission is the government department responsible in England for protecting, expanding and promoting the sustainable management of woods and forests and increasing their value to society and the environment. Forestry makes a real contribution to sustainable development, providing social and environmental benefits arising from planting and managing attractive, as well as productive, woodlands.

6. Play England promotes excellent free play opportunities for all children and young people. Play England provides advice and support to promote good practice, and works to ensure that the importance of play is recognised by policy makers, planners and the public. Play England is contracted as the government’s delivery partner for The Play Strategy. Play England is part of NCB and is supported by the Big Lottery Fund. For further information call 020 7843 6300 or visit

Jo Spouncer, on behalf of the Forestry Commission
tel 01420 23666; mob: 07828 762045