Den building at Morden Hall Park

Den building proves to be a great way to reconnect kids with nature © National Trust

Den building proves to be a great way to reconnect kids with nature

Morden Hall Park is a green oasis in the chaos of South London. The former deer park has a diverse landscape, with the River Wandle meandering through its centre, creating a haven for wildlife.

We asked Parks and Gardens Manager, Nick Allison, to tell us how Morden Hall Park is reconnecting kids with nature.

What are you doing to reconnect kids with nature?

Every week the ranger team top up the stack of branches and brush in the clearing next to the natural play area. Over the weekend, kids and their families head down to the site where they know they’ll find the perfect materials for making tepees and dens.

What we do is really quite simple, and with free entry to the park and easy access to natural materials it’s an activity for everyone. The incredibly creative structures that are constantly built and rebuilt in that area are a testament to how much everybody enjoys it.

Why do you run the activity?

We desperately want to get kids away from games consoles and the television and outside into nature.

Morden Hall Park is a proper wilderness and full of wildlife, which is unusual in London. Kids tend to head straight for the play area and the den building activity is a great way of drawing them further into nature. They play their way into the wild.

This has been a great success, and on some weekends we see up to 100 families trying out something that they might not normally get the chance to do.

We see kids starting off with the den building and then adventuring further out to explore the woodland and hay meadows.

Do you think the kids enjoy doing it?

Definitely. We see families turn up specifically to take part in the den and tepee building. Parents are often telling us they have travelled from quite far away to visit Morden Hall Park, under pressure from their kids. The wild play area and the den building are our unique selling point for kids! It is the hands-on creative play with natural stuff that brings the wild landscape alive for them.

As a child, what got you into nature and the outdoors?

When I was a kid, London was a much wilder place. All our neighbours seemed to be potters or keep bees besides doing their day jobs, and we kids ran free, using garden walls as a travel network that adults couldn’t manage. There were plenty of ruined buildings and parks were a lot more overgrown. The scope for building your own world in secret wild places was a lot greater than it is today.

I think the secret worlds you build as a child form the adult you become. I spent a lot of time doing whatever I liked in nature and it was very good for me. Here at Morden, we give children the chance to lose themselves in creative natural play and surprise themselves with the incredible dens that result. It is a priceless gift that all kids should be able to receive. Bring them to the park!

What do the kids say?

'It’s a cool place where we can pretend to be soldiers after we’ve have built our dens and sometimes we can build dens around a tree that we can climb in as well.'
- Rory and Nat Kellas, aged 12 and 9