What’s the ideal distance humans should maintain from nature? | WWF Hong Kong

What’s the ideal distance humans should maintain from nature?

27 November 2019

Studies have shown that a fast-paced, high-pressure urban environment like Hong Kong can take its toll on adults. But the problem does not solely affect adults – children are just as vulnerable as adults from our frenetic lifestyle, including from mood disorders. A recent study found that 16% of Hong Kong kindergarten-age children and about 22 per cent of mainland Chinese children suffer from mental health problems. (Kwok SY, Gu M, Cheung AP, 2017; Zhu J, et al. 2017)
As a result, in recent years nature education, in the form of outdoor extracurricular activities, has been touted as a way of boosting children’s connection to the outdoors and increasing their well-being. Another study points to nature helping boost children’s creativity and relieve stress, specifically beneficial to children suffering from attention-deficit disorder. If so, we now go beyond the saying “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” to immerse ourselves in nature whenever possible.
The World Health Organization has recognised the importance of connecting to nature when WHO Europe’s 2010 Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health issued the Parma Declaration on ‘Protecting children’s health in a changing environment’. It proposed a target number – 300 meters –as the ideal maximum distance that households should maintain to greenery in order to allow children to stretch themselves physically and mentally.
Likewise, a 2005 report published by the American Institutes for Research found that outdoor learning can boost children’s performance in science by 27 per cent by sparking their natural curiosity and playfulness and making it a motivator for learning. Children find nature intriguing that they can be absorbed for hours in such simple activities as tracking and observing ant activity. Learning respect for plants and nature at a young age helps children learn empathy making it second nature to them with the natural environment their ready-made playground.
In fact, proponents of nature education, such as Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder, believe direct exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development and for the physical and emotional health of children and adults.
Hong Kong may be known as a concrete jungle, but nature is easily within reach. Greenery is just 400 meters away from more than 90 per cent of residential areas – not far off from the WHO goals. But the question is are we making good use of nature that’s practically at our doorstep? Most parents avoid the outdoors under the flawed belief that it’s unhygienic or dangerous. Add to that, commonly seen signs warning the public not to ‘step on the grass’ in parks and green zones only serve to further separate humans from nature. We should however encourage children to be more exposed to nature, whether by joining nature-related courses, to discover, explore, question, experiment. Of course, parents also benefit when they spend quality time with their kids in nature.
Never underestimate seemingly naïve questions; ecologists spend their time studying and examining lesser-known species to learn their relationship with the natural environment, such as the link between carnivorous plants and bats, or the impact of human consumption of krill health products on penguins and whales. Questions are always a starting point for learning, and if nature can teach us so much about the world around us, why spend additional money on tutorial schools?
So on the question of the ideal distance between humans and nature, the answer certainly should be ‘as little as possible’. 
Connect2Nature School: https://www.wwf.org.hk/en/whatwedo/community_engagement_and_education/youth_training_and_volunteers/connect2nature_school/