Connection to nature

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

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Disconnection from nature is considered one of the major problems facing nature conservation. The term ‘connection to nature’ is frequently used to describe our attitude towards nature, our emotional relationship along with our knowledge and behaviour. 

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

There is also growing evidence of a positive relationship between a person’s health and wellbeing and their connection to nature. Experiencing nature is thought to provide health and wellbeing benefits, an ecosystem service which may start a positive feedback loop between health, wellbeing and connection.

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.


  • Explore how connection links to conservation behaviour.
  • Investigate connection and variation in connection across people in the UK.
  • Examine how connection changes over our lifetime.
  • 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, the RSPB started the Natural Health Revisited project, working with people in Dorset to develop a nature activity pack for people with dementia.


  • In late 2016, data from children at 15 schools in the UK was analysed to examine the correlation between connection and conservation behaviour. This research, carried out in collaboration with researchers at the University of Derby, indicated a positive relationship between connection and behaviour.
  • In early 2017, data from the earlier reports by researchers at the University of Essex was reanalysed to look at changes in connection from childhood to old age. Results suggest changes in connection, particularly over the teenage years, occur over the lifespan. This information potentially influences the planning and design of activities intended to build connection.


Planned Work

Over the past few years UK-wide datasets on connection among adults, teenagers and children have been collected and analysis will be conducted in 2017.

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.

The collaborative project, Natural Health Revisited, led by RSPB in conjunction with people from the University of Bournemouth, Alzheimers Society and Rockpool consultants, has 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. During 2017, research will be carried out to investigate whether there are any health, wellbeing and connection effects of using the Wildlife Pack in different environments.


The research is ongoing.



Coast on a stormy day

Dr Joelene Hughes

Senior Conservation Scientist, Conservation Science
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