Connection to nature

Connecting people to nature may be critical for the future of nature conservation.

Overview

Disconnection from nature is considered one of the major problems facing nature conservation. The term ‘connection to nature’ is frequently used to describe our enduring relationship with nature, including emotions, attitudes and behaviour.

Research shows that people with a greater connection to nature are more likely to behave positively towards the environment, wildlife and habitats. Developing an enduring relationship between people and nature, connecting people, may be critical for future nature conservation.

There is also increasing evidence of a positive relationship between a person’s connection to nature and their health and wellbeing. Experiencing nature is thought to provide health and wellbeing benefits. This is a potential ecosystem service that could start a positive feedback loop between health, wellbeing and connection to nature that leads to benefits for biodiversity conservation.

The health and wellbeing benefits of experiencing nature may be especially important to those suffering from ill health, such as dementia. Activities which assist people with dementia to engage with nature may be tools for improving their health, wellbeing and connection to nature, not only for the individual but for their carers, friends and families.

However, there are many unanswered questions about how to initiate and develop a connection to nature: what activities work, who they work for, why they work and what type of connection to nature leads to positive behaviour change. RSPB is working in collaboration with teams around the UK to try and shed some light on these questions and further the understanding of connection with the aim of increasing success of conservation action.

Objectives

  • Explore how connection builds over time and links to conservation behaviour.
  • Investigate the variation in connection to nature among people in the UK.
  • Develop tools to evaluate interventions and increase our understanding of what works in connection to nature activities.
  • Research links between health, wellbeing and connection to nature, in particular among people suffering from dementia.

Key Dates

  • In 2010 the RSPB published “Every Child Outdoors”, after research revealed a decline in awareness of biodiversity and outdoor experiences. The report also said every child is entitled to access nature and need it to support their education, health and social skills.
  • In 2013 the RSPB “Connecting with Nature” explained only a fifth of children were thought to demonstrate a reasonable connection to nature.
  • Between 2013 and 2015, researchers at the University of Essex carried out several studies to find the most appropriate tools for measuring connection among children, teenagers and adults.
  • In 2016-2017, the collaborative project, Natural Health Revisited, led by RSPB in conjunction with people from the University of Bournemouth, Alzheimers Society and Rockpool consultants, led to the development of a Wildlife Pack for people with dementia. Designed and informed by service user panels and trials, the pack is intended to help people with dementia to engage with nature. With thanks to the Cornwall Memory Café network and memory cafes in Cornwall and Dorset this was then piloted to see if there were any benefits for connection to nature and quality of life.
  • In 2018, RSPB published the results of work with researchers at the University of Derby that looked at how connection to nature, measured using the Connection to Nature Index (Cheng & Monroe 2012), predicts conservation behaviours.
  • In 2018, RSPB developed the Evaluating Nature Activities for Connection Tool (ENACT), a new evaluative tool for nature activities that aim to promote adult connection to nature and encourage nature-related behaviours.
  • In 2019 RSPB published results of work with researchers at the University of Essex on age, gender and connection relationships over the life course.
  • In 2019, RSPB used ENACT to evaluate the effectiveness of a wide range of different nature activities in terms of promoting adult connection to nature.

Progress

  • In 2018 data from the Wild Watching pack pilot in Cornwall and Dorset was gathered and analysed. This is now being written up for submission to a scientific journal and peer review.
  • In early 2019 phase 1 of the ENACT project was completed and a tool was developed that will be used to evaluate the connection to nature activities run for adults by the RSPB. The desired conservation outcomes of an activity were initially identified as being a number of pro-nature behavioural intentions. The tool was then developed from a wide-ranging assessment of people’s opinions on several factors thought to contribute to the success of a nature experience in leading to the outcomes.
  • A project to review connection to nature measures in relationship to specific conservation behaviours started in 2019. This project aims to investigate whether there are specific aspects of connection to nature that motivate conservation behaviours and the mechanisms involved.

Planned Work

  • Over the past few years UK-wide datasets on connection among adults, teenagers and children have been collected and further analyses will be conducted in 2019. The analysis will look at regional variation and other factors, such as household size, urban/rural divides and technology use, which may influence connection. Understanding more about the factors affecting connection across the UK will enable us to more effectively target activities where connection to nature may be particularly low. Establishing population baselines will also enable us to identify the trends.
  • A project starts in 2021 to develop a method for evaluating the effectiveness of nature activities that take place in settings other than nature reserves, using a similar research methodology to ENACT

Results

  • Research is developing and ongoing. For information on scientific research results please see the publications on Joelene Hughes and Victoria Carr's staff page or contact either.

Contacts

Coast on a stormy day

Dr Joelene Hughes

Principal Conservation Scientist, Conservation Science

joelene.hughes@rspb.org.uk
Coast on a stormy day

Victoria Carr

Conservation Scientist, Conservation Science

victoria.carr@rspb.org.uk
Tagged with: Country: England Country: Northern Ireland Country: Scotland Country: Wales Habitat: Farmland Habitat: Grassland Habitat: Heathland Habitat: Marine and intertidal Habitat: Upland Habitat: Urban and suburban Habitat: Wetland Habitat: Woodland Project status: Ongoing Project classification: Ongoing Project types: Research