Backyards may be shrinking in number, but spending more time in them makes us happier

Stephen TaylorJuly 2, 20130 min read

Get out into the backyard and have some fun!

That’s the message from Planet Ark in the lead up to National Tree Day on July 28.

It follows the release of Missing Trees – The Inside Story of an Outdoor Nation, sponsored by Toyota, which shows a link between childhood contact with nature and a range of health and wellbeing benefits.

It reveals that our ‘shrinking’ backyards, ‘screen time’ on PCs and tablets, and long working hours are concerning us and threatening our outdoor way of life.

“The research indicates that, while most Australians over 30 are likely to have clear childhood memories of playing in their backyard, for the first time in a number of generations, many children today are likely to have a very different set of memories,” says Planet Ark’s Rebecca Gilling.

She says that in a country of backyards, barbecues, beach and bush, Australians are known around the world as lovers of the great outdoors. However, it seems our laid-back outdoor culture is being eroded.

About one in three people spend less than 18 minutes a day on outdoor activities - about the same time as it takes to hang out the washing. Even playing cricket and football outside and having barbecues are at risk as our lifestyles and suburbs change.

A house with a backyard is still the ideal. About 72% of us would prefer to live in either a separate house with a large backyard or on a rural property but only 53% of us do. And 77% are concerned about shrinking backyards, including 83% of parents with young children who want them to have safe outdoor areas to play in.

But government policies and population pressures mean the number of houses with large backyards is shrinking, mainly as a result of decreasing supply and rising land costs.

On top of this come changes in our working hours, use of childcare, time pressures and living close to the CBD, meaning we have to place less value on backyards.

On average, those living in units or flats spend 3.5 hours a week on outdoor activities, while those in separate houses with large backyards spend 5.1 hours.

Planet Ark is encouraging us to join a National Tree Day event and plant a tree at home, in our backyard, on the verandah, rooftop or street to connect with nature and the great outdoors - and make nature part of where we live.

“As lifestyles change and the quarter acre block are no longer the norm, families should foster and maintain that important link with nature, which provides direct health benefits,” said Gilling.

“Events like National Tree Day are a fun community-focused way to get back outside, and this year we are encouraging people to register events in their own green spaces as well as get involved in public plantings.”

Stephen Taylor

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