Dr Joelene Hughes

Principal Conservation Scientist, Conservation Science


My research interests lie in exploring the relationships between humans, nature and conservation, with a particular interest in the concept of connection to nature and affecting pro-conservation behaviour change. Disconnection from nature is seen as a problem for biodiversity conservation and I am interested in investigating the initiation and development of people's connection to nature, the causes of variability in connection, plus examining how a connection to nature drives behaviour. I am involved in projects looking at the aspects of nature experiences that influence connection, how connection varies between people, the relationship between connection and human health and well-being, plus other ways to influence behaviour change.

Current projects

Connection to Nature
Connection to nature is a multidimensional construct influenced by affective (emotional), behavioural and cognitive (knowledge) factors. Developing a connection to nature is thought to be one important pathway for motivating conservation behaviour. I am working with the University of Essex to examine variables correlating with differences in connection to nature across the UK population that will hopefully enable us to improve our conservation actions. I am also working on a project to develop and use methods for evaluating the effectiveness of RSPB connection to nature activities.

Biodiversity and mental health
Mental ill-health is a large and growing problem for societies globally.  Previous work has illustrated the benefits of exposure to nature as part of mental health recovery. In partnership with a mental health service provider, this project is looking at the opportunities for making changes to mental health infrastructure such as hospitals and out-patient units, which can increase biodiversity and benefit the patients, carers and staff who use those spaces.

Wild Watching – activities for people living with dementia
Dementia is term that describes a set of symptoms showing a decline in mental ability. Dementia is becoming increasingly prevalent throughout the UK. In 2016 and 2017 we worked with the local Alzheimer’s Society in Dorset to develop a nature-based activity pack for people living with dementia. This packed was piloted in collaboration with a number of memory cafes throughout Dorset and Cornwall to see if there were any indications of effects on connection to nature and quality of life.

Giving nature and people a home
There is currently a huge demand for new housing in the UK. RSPB is interested in how to make new housing stock more nature friendly. As part of a large collaboration, Rebecca Jefferson and I are investigating how increasing the biodiversity of our housing stock could deliver benefits to people – does growing up in a more biodiverse place make us healthier and happier?

In conjunction with Rebecca Jefferson, I was the thematic lead on the CCI collaboration looking at impact assessment in small and medium conservation projects. More information can be found through this link http://www.cambridgeconservation.org/resource/website-resource/prism-evaluation-toolkit

External Activities

  • 2014 to present: Research Associate at the University of Oxford

Partners and Collaboration

  • Dr Jo Barton, University of Essex
  • Dr Rachel Bragg, Social Farms & Gardens UK
  • Dr Holly Cressen-White, University of Bournemouth
  • Dr Tobit Emmens, Devon Partnership NHS Trust
  • Dr Mike Ferguson, University of Essex
  • Dr Ryan Lumber, University of Derby
  • Prof Miles Richardson, University of Derby


Joelene Hughes

Dr Joelene Hughes

Principal Conservation Scientist, Conservation Science

The Lodge, Potton Road, Sandy, Bedfordshire, SG19 2DL



Ecosystem services

Selected Publications

Age and connection to nature: when is engagement critical?

Conservation organizations are increasingly aware of the need to motivate pro‐environmental behavior by connecting people with nature. However, to maximize the effectiveness of the limited resources available, there needs to be a better understanding of the variability in people's connection to nature shown at different ages.

16 April 2019
RSPB Authors
Dr Joelene Hughes
Hughes, J., Rogerson, M., Barton, J. & Bragg, R.
Published in
Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment
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Evaluating connection to nature and the relationship with conservation behaviour in children

‘Connection to nature’ is a multidimensional trait thought to be important for developing positive conservation behaviours, and strengthening people’s connection to nature has become the focus for many conservation...

01 September 2018
RSPB Authors
Dr Joelene Hughes
Hughes, J., Richardson, M.J. & Lumber, R.
Published in
Journal for Nature Conservation 45: 11-19
View publication Details