For Dr Chris Loynes, the study of the great outdoors has been a labour of love for decades.
The Ambleside-based reader in outdoor studies is a well-known figure in the UK and now in the Far East too where he was keynote speaker at the 20th Japanese Outdoor Education Society Conference.
His presentation European Outdoor Education: challenged by and challenging modernity considered how outdoor education has developed over the years and how changes today threaten to undermine the benefits of the great outdoors.
“It began independently in various places at different times especially in the Czech Republic, Scandinavia, Slovenia, Germany and the UK.” Dr Loynes told delegates in Tokyo. “The Czechs found refuge in the countryside and sustained their culture during the Soviet occupation, for the British it is a hostile place of adventure and for Germans an aesthetic cultural experience. What they share is an idea that arose from the community in each country as a form of non-formal education, a social movement practiced out of doors and addressing the needs of the times.”
However he says changes to society are now challenging the opportunity to be outside in several ways and warns that health benefits could be lost through over-regulation.
“It has been partially institutionalised, regulating and bureaucratising its forms which stifles creativity and challenges the place of outdoor education on the edge of society with the potential for radical interventions,” Chris said. ”OE is therefore less able to respond to changing circumstances. The holistic benefits become narrowed to simple outcomes such as improving attainment for school students and in their academic subjects. In addition, the outdoors faces commodification, commercialisation and instrumentalisation as organisations focus on the benefits of outdoor experiences for people and loose the values of curiosity and enquiry about the natural world and our place within it.”
He highlights urbanisation as a particular issue world-wide, forcing separation of humans from nature at the very time he suggests more needs to be done to boost our own health and that of the planet.
The event in Japan is the country’s biggest gathering of outdoor experts in a country where industry and the outdoors survive together. Chris says he was able to overcome the language barrier thanks to support from very close to home.
“My son John runs a language school in Japan and lives in Fukishima and offered to act as interpreter for me,” Chris said.
Chris will be leaving Ambleside for the region again later this year. He’s been asked to spend time working with the government in Singapore to help foster a better understanding of the benefits of outdoor education.