Countryside Convictions

23rd February 2023

Thoughts on cultivating a closer relationship with the countryside by Ben Webb of Surrey Hills and Rivers.

There are lots of statistics and arguments pointing towards the need to spend more time active in the countryside, but surely it’s just common sense?

The sad reality is that a lot of young people risk growing up to a life of poorer physical and mental health and, even as a result, having a life that’s shorter than that enjoyed by their parents resulting from a more sedentary lifestyle, processed food, and the pressures of social media. It is clear the answer is not contrived fitness initiatives, traffic light labelling on foods and education and controls around screens and social media, that isn’t a rounded recipe for wellbeing. What is needed is freedom and fun.

The countryside can provide what is really needed. When we commit to time in the countryside we automatically get respite from technology, physical exercise as a natural part of our day and exposure to the elements. Yet the benefits run so much deeper still. We get a chance to appreciate our dinner more than we would after a sedentary day indoors, or a hot shower, or a drink of cold water, or the heat from a fire. We get a chance to understand why mankind felt the inclination to invent all the luxuries that we have around us, and to remember that they are luxuries and that other things are more important. Personal progression in some form can be said to be the key to wellbeing, but only if it actually feels like progress. And for economic progress or luxuries to make us happy, we need to keep nurturing that sense of the basics.

In a countryside setting there is also the chance to develop the all-important, meaningful social bonds with other people that can come from managing the outdoors together, or from going through physical endeavour as a team, or from chatting together when not competing for some resource or other and instead with the backdrop the peace and calm of the countryside. There is also the chance to appreciate how other living things spend their whole lives ‘just getting by’.

In the 21st century we have to proactively create the opportunities for children to enjoy the countryside and can’t expect children to engage with the countryside without some encouragement, because access is not always easy and modern society doesn’t bless parents with that confidence to let their children disappear into the woods and over the hills from breakfast until dinner. And, of course, children themselves are often too readily occupied with screens and social media anyway.

The opportunities are everywhere out there however, with lots of initiatives to support less well-off families too. It simply takes a bit of individual conviction to string those countryside experiences together all through the year and to project the fond memories and virtues of those experiences upon our daily lives in between.

So, my conviction is to get our children out into the countryside – now that’s progress and wellbeing – and perhaps the key to a few more years that are worth living.

To learn more about the work of Surrey Hills and Rivers, visit: