Supporting a GCSE in Natural History

Recently there have been calls for a petition for a GCSE in Natural History, and today an alert for new research that informs and supports this proposal arrived in my inbox. The paper in Education Sciences explores how connection with nature and scientific knowledge influence pro environmental behaviour – ultimately an essential reason for a GCSE in Natural History .

The research found direct links between an individual’s connection with nature, understanding of science and proenvironmental behaviour. Importantly, increasing a person’s connection with nature emerged as the most important predictor of proenvironmental behaviour, double the influence of science knowledge (which was still significant). This supported previous research that argues the impact of knowledge on proenvironmental behaviours is mediated by emotion, because 80% of behaviour is not driven by knowledge [see 1].

My research focuses on how to increase connection with nature, that feeling of being part of nature, because being connected is good for nature’s and human well-being. Our research has found that in order to increase connection we need to move beyond knowing nature to promote a more affective relationship with the natural world [2].


So scientific knowledge is important, but efforts to engage people with nature are often based on knowledge and identification. To normalise the value of nature, we should focus on the everyday nature about us. And this focus should not be to know and to identify. We’re driven to know, to understand, be smarter, to walk further, to run faster, to climb, to cross, to conquer, to progress – and to consume. Whereas the remedies for our current disconnection with nature are in less purposeful activities, simple contact with nature involving emotion.

Gregory Bateson highlighted the ecological dangers of our linear, purposeful thinking and predicted the solutions in the late 1960s and early 1970s, before the current environmental movement developed. Bateson argued that our conscious purpose is damaging to the wider ecology as it separates us from it – “We are not outside the ecology for which we plan”. He saw remedies in the arts, aesthetics and contact with the natural world.

What’s great about the petition for a GCSE in Natural History is that it does move beyond knowing nature stating that “it is vital to understand the contribution nature makes to our lives physically, culturally, emotionally and scientifically both in the past and today”. Continuing to reference the nature writing and arts that are “integral to our culture and heritage”. And it is a cultural change that is required to place nature at the core of the things we do.

So in addition to describing what a blackbird looks like, highlight the joy in listening to its song. In addition to explaining how to identify a tree by its leaves, prompt people to watch how the breeze moves them. In addition to recording and ticking off species, watch them going about their lives. In addition to conquering the outdoors, share the awe and wonder of being there. Make contact, find meaning, reflect, experience emotion, and engage with nature’s beauty.

There is no need to shy away from framing our relationship with nature in this way. When we asked people to notice three good things in nature each day for five days, the things people noticed weren’t based on linear purpose or taxonomy, the differences between birds or how many they’d seen [3]. Rather the good things in nature were the sensations, feelings, beauty, wonder and changes over time [4]. In pausing and taking a moment to reflect [5] and notice nature people became more connected to nature and felt better too. And if a connection leads to a thirst for knowledge and identification, then great, as long as less purposeful engagement is not lost.

In a further coincidence, my daughter received a GCSE options letter from school this week. It informs us the government is keen for all pupils to take GCSEs in the ‘core’ academic subjects of English, maths, science, a language and history or geography. There is a desperate need for nature to be core in our lives, as it is core to our existence and well-being. [6,7,8]. So please sign the petition for a GCSE in Natural History, an important step to nature being core within our lives.


See also: A GCSE in Natural History – now.

Save the Date – Nature Connections 2017 – Tuesday 27th June. Details and NCx2016 report coming soon.


  1. Hines, J.M.; Hungerford, H.R.; Tomera, A.N. Analysis and synthesis of research on responsible environmental behavior: A meta-analysis. J. Environ. Educ. 1987, 18, 1–8.
  1. Lumber, R., Richardson, M., & Sheffield, D. (under review). Beyond knowing nature: Contact, emotion, compassion and beauty are pathways to nature connection. PloS one.
  1. Richardson, M. & Sheffield, D. (2017). Three good things in nature: Noticing nearby nature brings sustained increases in connection with nature. Psyecology.
  1. Richardson, M., Hallam, J. & Lumber, R. (2015). One thousand good things in nature: The aspects of nature that lead to increased nature connectedness. Environmental Values, 24 (5), 603-619.
  1. Richardson, M., & Sheffield, D. (2015). Reflective self-attention: A more stable predictor of connection to nature than mindful attention. Ecopsychology, 7 (30), 166-175.
  1. Richardson, M., McEwan, K., Maratos, F. & Sheffield, D. (2016). Joy and Calm: How an Evolutionary Functional Model of Affect Regulation Informs Positive Emotions in Nature. Evolutionary Psychological Science. doi:10.1007/s40806-016-0065-5
  1. Richardson, M., Maspero, M., Golightly, D., Sheffield, D., Staples, V. & Lumber, R. (2016). Nature: A new paradigm for wellbeing and ergonomics. Ergonomics.
  1. Richardson, M., Cormack, A., McRobert, L. & Underhill, R. (2016). 30 Days Wild: Development and Evaluation of a Large-Scale Nature Engagement Campaign to Improve Well-Being. PLoS ONE 11(2): e0149777. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0149777


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Nature: The Ultimate Network?

Today I attended a workshop at Defra about connecting people with the environment. The questions for the day were broadly who to target? The barriers and challenges? What works? How to scale up? A cultural change is required within a generation and towards the end of the day our table focussed on young adults; our research suggests they are more disconnected from nature than older generations. Further justification is that this group are likely to be influencing future generations; their children. This group is often termed Millennials. Continue reading

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3 Good Things in Nature – A simple way to improve connection with nature

A strong connection with nature lies at the heart of a healthy life and a healthy planet – but how do we increase people’s nature connection? That is my research focus and such increases need to be sustained and achieved as part of our everyday lives. The good news is that our recent paper shows how simply noting ‘3 good things in nature’ each day for a week leads to longer term increases in nature connection.

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How Nature Regulates Emotions and the Heart for Wellbeing

There is plenty of evidence that nature is good for us, but how does being in nature impact on our emotions, body and wellbeing? Our latest paper, just published open access in Evolutionary Psychological Science, presents a model and supporting evidence to show that nature regulates emotions and the heart. This brings balance to our feelings and the nervous system that controls the function of our body, and organs such as the heart. Balance of emotions brings wellbeing, and regulation of heart rhythms helps heart health. This is the story of how nature helps keep us well.

To explain the benefits of nature we need to understand our emotions and their underlying physiology. A simple way to do this is to represent these systems with 3 circles – represented here by a falcon, ash tree and wild boar warning!

Full Model

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Improving Wellbeing through Urban Nature

Nature Connection has kept me really busy over recent months, the growing interest is great, but I’m understanding the restorative effects of nature more and more! So far in 2016 i’ve written, and had accepted, five research papers and the Nature Connections 2016 conference took place last month – see the story here. Next up is one project that’s going to keep me (and several others) busy for the next 3 years. IWUN: Improving Wellbeing through Urban Nature has been awarded £1.3 million from the Natural Environment Research Council – part of the human health and wellbeing goal of the Valuing Nature programme. Although we know that spending time in with nature is good for people, the project will investigate the dose and which particular features of green space boost people’s health and personal enjoyment.

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The Nature of Smartphones Users

Technology is often cited as a reason for our disconnection from the natural world, but there’s not a great deal of research in this area. Recently smartphone technology has become common and a colleague (Dr Zaheer Hussain) and I have just completed a study looking at phone use and connection with nature.

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30 Days Wild: How Connection to Nature Brings Happiness and Health

Last year we evaluated the impact of 30 Days Wild for The Wildlife Trusts. The results were excellent and the resulting journal paper has just been published – so you can read the full 5000 words here. This blog is a short summary, but focussing on an exciting aspect of the results which is only a small part of the article.


Evaluation of 30 Days Wild Published in PLOS: ONE

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