Public perceptions of nature

Finding out what people think about nature so we can better engage them with conservation.

Young girls looking for insects in the grass, RSPB nature reserve at Lochwinnoch


People engage with nature in different ways, we each value nature for reasons personal to ourselves and have a unique set of knowledge and understanding about nature. Being able to know how a group of people “see” an important part of nature can help to catalyse changes in behaviour when required.

Perceptions is an umbrella term which includes components of our relationships with nature such as knowledge, interest, social values, attitudes or behaviours. Perceptions research can assess perceptions towards particular conservation issues, species, places or management. Researching public perceptions of nature informs the way we try to engage people with conservation actions, ensuring messages resonate with the target audience.

Currently these projects include investigations of the types of nature experiences visitors want at nature reserves, a particular focus on public perceptions of the sea, as a way of exploring how to connect people with nature which is often out of sight and out of mind and understanding how public perceptions research can support conservation. 


  • Investigate what elements of nature experiences are important to visitors at nature reserves, particularly considering ecological values and proximity to animals.
  • Explore people’s memorable nature experiences to identify themes which could inform activities on nature reserves.
  • Conduct an in-depth review of the existing research into public perceptions of the sea.
  • Investigate the role of public perceptions research can play in conservation.

Key Dates

  • August 2015: At the International Marine Conservation Congress in Glasgow, jointly with Dr Emma McKinley, we coordinated a symposium and focus group workshop on the role of public perceptions research for marine conservation
  • Autumn 2015: Fieldwork for nature reserves project on visitor experiences of nature conducted at Loch Leven, Lochwinnoch, Minsmere, Arne and Old Moor nature reserves and via an online questionnaire to RSPB members.


We brought together a group of expert speakers to present at the International Marine Conservation Congress (2015) to prompt debate on the contributions of public perceptions research to marine conservation, including the benefits and priorities for marine conservation, how to ensure perceptions research is accessible and how to facilitate the much needed interdisciplinary approaches.

Planned Work

  • Our work into public perceptions of the sea is continuing with a number of possible avenues, including future projects with our marine policy teams around key marine conservation subjects such as marine protected areas.  
  • Ongoing work with nature reserve staff teams will be conducted to apply the findings of current projects and develop future projects where needed.


  • Development of a framework for understanding the contributions of public perceptions research to marine conservation.
  • Introduction of conservation marketing as a tool for conservation.
  • Collation of a series of case studies of the use of environmental psychology, which underpins much public perceptions research, to aquatic management.


  • Dr Steve Fletcher, UN Environment, World Conservation Monitoring Centre
  • Dr Sarah Gall, Plymouth University
  • Dr Gill Glegg, Plymouth University
  • Holly Griffin, University College London
  • Dr Emma McKinley, Cardiff University



Coast on a stormy day

Dr Rebecca Jefferson

Senior Conservation Scientist, Conservation Science
Tagged with: Country: England Country: Northern Ireland Country: Scotland Country: Wales Project status: Ongoing Project classification: Ongoing Project types: Research