Family in woods

Young people consider fewer children as climate change concern mounts

Image credit: woodland trust

A third of young people in Britain have admitted to feeling scared and pessimistic about climate change, according to a new poll.

Carried out by YouGov on behalf of the Woodland Trust, the poll found that 33 per cent of 16-24-year-olds admitted to being “scared” by the prospect of a changing climate, with 28 per cent saying they felt “overwhelmed”.

Almost one-in-four (24 per cent) said that fears over the climate crisis mean they are willing to consider having fewer children than they would otherwise like.

Woodland Trust chief executive Dr Darren Moorcroft said that, with access to woodland declining and tree cover in the UK one of the lowest in Europe, the results were “alarming”.

“Young people are experiencing an epidemic of climate anxiety and are increasingly worried about the health of the planet,” he said. “This new data shows that climate change is jeopardising more than just the environment, with people’s mental wellbeing and future life plans also affected.  

“We know that being outdoors and among nature has a positive effect on mental health – but the level of access to green space in the UK is simply not good enough.”

The UK currently has just 13 per cent woodland cover, only 7 per cent of which is in good ecological condition, compared to a European average of 37 per cent.

A report published by the Trust in 2021 also showed that only 16.2 per cent of people in the UK had access to at least two hectares of green space within 500m of their home – down from 21.1 per cent in 2016.

The YouGov poll, conducted in February 2023, showed that only 9 per cent of people aged 16-24 felt young people have a great deal of influence making decisions about climate change.

With climate anxiety an ever-increasing issue, Hayley Jarvis, head of physical activity for the mental health charity Mind, said outdoor activities can be a great way to improve mental wellbeing.

“Ecotherapy, a type of formal treatment which involves doing activities outside in nature, can be as effective as antidepressants in treating mild to moderate depression and anxiety,” she added. 

“Unlike working out in the gym or other indoor activities, the colours, sounds and smells we find outdoors stimulate our senses in a different way and can boost our mood. Getting away from modern life and into a relaxing outside space can allow us to switch off from everyday pressures, help relieve stress, and give us time to clear our heads.”

The Woodland Trust has launched its ‘Plant More Trees’ climate campaign with a mission to plant 50 million more native trees across the UK by 2030.

The total sample size of the poll was 2,133 adults, of which 226 were aged 16-24 and the survey was carried out online.

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