It seems that New Zealanders and foreigners alike consider that we are lucky in this land of ours. People who live in high-rise apartments in dense cities like Hong Kong flock to our shores to get close to nature.

This week I had the privilege of attending a conference called "A Place To Live" in Whanganui. Keynote speaker and renowned bestselling author Richard Louv told the audience that we have an excellent level of access to nature here in New Zealand.

He lamented that in some inland communities in his Californian city of San Diego, 34% of children had never been to the ocean.

Stating that he would rather be hiking or fishing than working he aptly described some of the benefits of time spent in the natural world by saying that "unlike TV, nature does not steal time, it enhances it."


But the truth is, while most of you now, who are reading this on a computer have probably got the ability to spend crucial time in nature regularly, the reality is very different for other sectors of society.

Last summer, we took 500 children from South Auckland to Waiheke Island to clean up the beach. For almost all of them, it was a special occasion as it was the first time they had been on a boat.

What I didn't realise was that for some of them - and I am talking 10-12 year olds here - it was the first time they had been to the beach.

I find it shocking that this is the case when they live less than 15 minutes drive from several beaches.

This really shaped my thinking. How can we educate people not to litter or pour paint down the drain because we need to look after the ocean when they have never been there?

A huge clean-up event on Rangitoto that we organised in 2011 highlighted another problem. Despite the fact that we had raised the funds to provide free ferries, teachers had done all of the planning, consent forms and risk management procedures (no small feat these days) - over 400 children couldn't come to the event because they either couldn't afford $5 for the bus, or they didn't have shoes.

After I heard of the huge disappointment, tears, anger and unfairness experienced by the kids in those groups I realised just how much of a problem this access is.

Louv explains the challenge of "Nature Deficit Disorder" as a growing problem as we rip out forests and urbanise our people into concrete jungles. He points out the huge increase in ADHD (some schools in the US now have 30% of their children on drugs such as Ritalin) and that it has been proven that a walk through a park can relieve such symptoms.

Regular access to nature also reduces anxiety, depression, stress and memory loss.

It is also important not to wrap our kids in cotton wool, and instead let them experience nature for themselves.

For children, studies have shown that those who grow up playing in nature (as apposed to concrete surfaces) are more likely to create their own games and tend to invite others of difference race and gender to join them.

The leaders who grow up in nature tend to end up the smartest, while the leaders who grow up surrounded by concrete tend to be the strongest, a trait that is often associated with bullying.

Like a school I visited in Motueka this winter past, we need to remove many of the playground rules and let kids go out, take risks and make mistakes while they are young, otherwise what sort of risks will they end up taking as teenagers and adults?

So as we decide whether or not to spend $300 million of ratepayers money on another highway in Auckland that will inevitably increase traffic, reduce air quality and reduce access to nature, perhaps we should think about how we can give more access to nature for the people who need it most.

I for one, have a meeting today to establish whether we can take another 500 kids out to Waiheke next year. But there is no way that a couple of events run by an understaffed and underfunded charity is going to fix this problem.

What ideas have you got for providing access to nature for children? Please leave a comment below or email me.