Are We Losing Our Nature Words?

July 30, 2019 / National Trust

What do you think of when you hear the words: tweet, web, stream, cloud? Do you think of birds, spiders, rivers and skies? Or messaging, data and live video?

As part of its annual 50 Things to do before you’re 11 ¾ campaign, we worked with National Trust and Dr Robbie Love, linguistics fellow at the University of Leeds, to conduct a new study to reveal our language for the natural world is being lost or overtaken by uses that refer to digital technology, especially among younger generations.

The academic study of evidence from over 25 years highlighted a declining trend of Britons associating words like stream, web and cloud with nature – so much so that:

  • Today, just 1% of uses of the word ‘tweet’ relates to birds and 7% of the word ‘web’ to spiders
  • In the 1990s, 100% of mentions of ‘stream’ meant ‘a little river’ versus only 36% today
  • Nature usage of ‘cloud’ is down nearly a quarter (23%) in three decades

A follow up study in June 2019 of 6 – 12-year olds using YouGov's children’s omnibus survey observed that on average, kids start switching away from nature meanings in their language around the age of ten. The National Trust’s analysis of the survey found 37% of kids associate the word ‘web’ with the internet rather than spiders. In some children, this was observed as starting at as young as six!

To bring the research and 50 Things campaign to life, we created an unscripted video that shows seven to ten-year olds who are losing nature meanings in their language and then the joy of reconnecting with the nature meanings of words, with the aim of inspiring kids to get stuck into nature with all their senses in a local park, their garden or National Trust place.

With such an interesting topic at the helm, coverage naturally rolled in, with 14 pieces of national coverage (including Daily Mail, The Times, Daily Telegraph, The Guardian and The I and a suite of national broadcast hits – including the Jeremy Kyle show – resulting in 90% of coverage featuring messaging aligned to the core objective and message of Everyone Welcome. The campaign also saw over 60,000 video views across social channels.

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