How does contact with nature affect our wellbeing?

Investigating the relationships between biodiversity and human health and wellbeing.

Man birdwatching on bench

Overview

For many of us, being out in nature makes us feel happier and more relaxed.  

The research into this relationship gives some evidence that access to natural space positively impacts human well-being - some studies suggest contact with nature might benefit people suffering from mental health conditions such as dementia or depression.  

However, questions which require further investigation include how biodiversity and human wellbeing are connected – does more biodiversity give us a greater wellbeing benefit?  What components of biodiversity have the greatest wellbeing benefit?  What are the implications for the conservation sector of the growing emphasis on nature for wellbeing?  

The wellbeing projects investigate some of these questions in different settings, including coastal environments, within a mental health care setting, and as a component of newly built housing stock.

Objectives

  • To understand how gradients in biodiversity, such as species richness or abundance, affect human well-being.
  • To investigate how conservation and health organisations can work together for shared objectives.
  • To assess the role of animal behaviour in catalysing a wellbeing benefit in people.

Progress

  • Our work with Devon Partnership NHS Trust has explored how to bring together nature conservation and mental health organisations to develop interventions which can support mental health service users, carers and staff whilst also having a nature conservation benefit. This work is being prepared for publication.  
  • Emerging results: perceptions of biodiversity tended to be at coarse landscape/broad habitat scales, rather than the details of species. Self-reported benefits derived from a more biodiverse countryside varied between different user groups - connectedness to and appreciation of nature is not a necessary outcome of outdoor pursuits.  

Planned Work

Through RSPB's work with Barratt Homes, we will be investigating the role of local biodiversity on human health and wellbeing of residents in new-build housing estates. This work is in the early stages as the houses are currently being built.  

We are developing a Wildlife Pack which aims to engage people with dementia with nature. Wellbeing effects of connecting with nature will be investigated within this project.

Results

  • Social cohesion: Using a large nationally representative sample, we found the perceived quality, views and amount of time spent in nature were linked to more community cohesion. In turn, the perception of cohesive communities enhanced individual well-being outcomes and contributions back to society through higher workplace productivity and environmentally responsible behaviour. Local nature was also linked to lower crime, through its effects on community cohesion.
  • Our project on marine biodiversity and human wellbeing used images and videos to assess potential wellbeing benefits. The results showed images with greater biodiversity were considered to have a greater potential wellbeing benefit. Animal activity was also found to be important in wellbeing benefit, highlighting the role of animal behaviour as part of the human experience of nature.

 

Partners

  • Prof Joe Morris and Dr Anil Graves, Cranfield University (Wessex BESS)
  • Prof James Bullock, CEH (Wessex BESS)
  • Dr Tim Stojanovic, University of St Andrews (CBESS)
  • Dr Neal Hocvkley, Bangor University (CBESS)
  • Dr Mat White, University of Exeter
  • Tobit Emmens, Devon Partnership NHS Trust and Exeter Medical School 

Funding

  • Marine biodiversity: This work was supported by funds from RSPB and the European Centre for Environment and Human Health, part of University of Exeter Medical School, which at the time the research was conducted was supported by the European Regional Development Fund and the European Social Fund Convergence Programme for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

Contacts

Coast on a stormy day

Dr Rebecca Jefferson

Senior Conservation Scientist, Conservation Science

rebecca.jefferson@rspb.org.uk
Tagged with: Country: England Country: Northern Ireland Country: Scotland Country: Wales Project status: Ongoing Project classification: Ongoing Project types: Research