Nature Connectedness – For a new relationship with nature: Free Online Course

There’s no wellbeing without nature’s wellbeing. Climate warming and wildlife loss show that the existing relationship between people and the rest of nature is failing. Through a focus on nature connectedness, this free, online short course will show how we can build a new relationship with nature – for the wellbeing of both people and the rest of the natural world.

The Nature Connectedness Research Group at the University of Derby is leading the development of ground-breaking evidence that explains what nature connectedness is, how it can be measured, its benefits for human and environmental wellbeing – and, importantly, how it can be improved. This free MOOC covers that work.

The Nature Connectedness MOOC – for human and nature’s wellbeing

The course provides an opportunity for you to learn about nature connectedness and the value of having a strong relationship with nature. Made up of eight short units, the course encourages you to actively consider our relationships with nature, for our own well-being as well as for the longer-term benefit of nature and the natural world.

  • Unit 1 – What is Nature Connectedness?
  • Unit 2 – Why Nature Connectedness Matters: People
  • Unit 3 – Why Nature Connectedness Matters: Wider Nature
  • Unit 4 – Improving Nature Connectedness: Noticing
  • Unit 5 – Improving Nature Connectedness: The pathways framework
  • Unit 6 – Pathways Case Studies
  • Unit 7 – Using the Pathways Framework and Evaluation
  • Unit 8 – Scaling up – Societal Application of the Pathways

During the course, you will look at why nature connectedness matters and how it can be improved. You’ll learn about our Pathways to Nature Connectedness Framework and will look at how you can use this framework to positively impact our connections with nature, pro-nature and environmental behaviours and our wellbeing.

The course content is informed by nationally recognised research and written by Professor Miles Richardson, a Professor of Human Factors and Nature Connectedness, together with colleagues from the Nature Connectedness Research Group.

The course is open to anyone and will be of particular interest to those who feel passionate about mental wellbeing, nature and pro-nature behaviours. Those completing the course will gain:

  • An understanding of the psychological construct of nature connectedness
  • An understanding of why nature connectedness matters for human and nature’s wellbeing
  • An understanding of how to improve nature connectedness

You can find out more and sign up for the nature connectedness MOOC here.

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Getting the most from watching garden birds: Take part

The University of Derby’s Nature Connectedness Research Group‘s work is all about improving the relationship between people and the rest of nature – for human and nature’s wellbeing. We’ve developed some of the first interventions to improve that relationship, bring significant benefits to mental wellbeing and pro-nature behaviours. These interventions are based on noticing nature and the pathways to nature connectedness. We’re always looking for new ways to engage people with nature that bring the maximum benefits. Our latest research project is a student project that explores if the way we watch garden birds affects the wellbeing benefits they can bring. You can take part by following the link below, but read a little more about the study first.

Starling on a feeder

Watching birds is a simple way to engage with nature, especially close to home during the current restrictions – but the purpose of birdwatching can vary. In the current project people taking part will be asked to watch their local birds in different ways. We’ll then be able to see if some ways are better than others for wellbeing.

It’s straightforward, but we’re looking for people with an hour to spare. People taking part will be asked to:

  1. Put some food out for the birds.
  2. Spend 15 minutes or so completing some wellbeing questionnaires online.
  3. Spend 30 minutes watching birds and recording them as instructed.
  4. Spend 15 minutes or so completing the wellbeing questionnaires again.

For ethical reasons only those 18 years old and over can take part. Also, it’s for UK residents only as the types of bird matters too.

Once you’ve put some food out for the birds and have an hour to spare you can take part by following this link which will take you to the formal information and consent process. In a few months, after the data has been analysed and report written, we’ll share the results!

 

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Noticing Nature, Nature Connectedness and Time in Nature: Associations with Human and Nature’s Wellbeing during the Corona Pandemic

During the restrictions to control the coronavirus pandemic people have visited and noticed nature more. We were curious to find out how nature benefited the nation’s mental wellbeing during the coronavirus restrictions. The new People and Nature Survey (PANS) developed by Natural England provided some useful data. Building on some of our previous research, the survey also allowed us to compare how longer-term physical and psychological relationship with nature, and shorter-term visits and noticing of nature were associated with wellbeing – and as human and nature’s wellbeing is rarely considered together, pro-nature behaviours.

Given the continued restrictions, further understanding of how nature can benefit wellbeing is important. Therefore we’ve published the full report ahead of peer review, you can take a look here. Also, before we continue, this blog provides an opportunity to share an invite to take part in a new research project exploring the benefits of watching birds in the garden or close to home. It’s for those with an hour to spare during the day – you need to watch birds for 30 minutes. Sorry, ethics means this is for those 18+ and UK only, but when you’re in a position to feed the birds with an hour to spare please consider taking part here.

Noticing nature matters

Back to the study, PANS asked several thousand members of the public questions about how connected they are to nature, how often they visit natural spaces and how much they notice nature. The survey also collected information on pro-nature conservation behaviours and several wellbeing measures: happiness, loneliness, life satisfaction and the sense that one’s life is worthwhile.

First of all, we analysed the extent to which these wellbeing variables and pro-nature conservation behaviours are predicted by people’s long-term relationship with nature: the time spent in nature over the past 12 months and nature connectedness. We found that both more time spent in nature and a greater connection to nature were positively related to several positive outcomes: life satisfaction, happiness, a worthwhile life and pro-nature conservation behaviours.

We then turned our attention to experiences of nature during the pandemic restrictions. Our analyses revealed that both the number of recent visits to green spaces and increased time noticing nature were associated with increases in life satisfaction, happiness and the sense of one’s life being worthwhile. The more people spent time in and noticed nature during the pandemic, the greater their wellbeing. Increases in noticing nature were also positively associated with pro-nature conservation behaviours and greater loneliness. So noticing nature makes you lonely!? Nope, as a cross-sectional survey the direction of this relationship is unknown, rather than increased noticing of nature increasing loneliness, the findings could well reflect that as loneliness increases people turn to nature and spend more time noticing it, buffering the effect of reduced social connectedness that has been found in other research.

Finally, we examined all of these variables together so that we could better understand the relationship between wellbeing and the quality of long-term and short-term relationships with nature. Interestingly, recent nature visits didn’t account for any increase in wellbeing over and above that caused by long-term visits. However, recent increases in noticing nature were associated with a greater sense of having a worthwhile life and more pro-nature conservation behaviours.

These results highlight the importance of having a long-term relationship with nature, but also suggest that recent increases in noticing nature can bring psychological benefits regardless of one’s historical relationship with nature.

The results also confirm an emerging and important finding: that connection to and simple engagement with nature bring benefits over and above those derived from simply spending time in nature. As well as spending time in nature, we also need to tune into nature and develop greater nature connectedness if we want to maximise the benefits to our own, and nature’s wellbeing – perhaps even more so during the pandemic.

 

Full report: Richardson, M., & Hamlin, I. (2021). Noticing nature, nature connectedness and time in nature: Associations with Human and Nature’s Wellbeing during the Corona Pandemic. Retrieved from psyarxiv.com/kd7bz

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Benefits of Connecting with Green Spaces: An Evaluation Toolkit for Children and Young People

By Dr Gulcan Garip & Prof Miles Richardson

Our relationship with nature is failing, as evidenced by the loss of biodiversity and climate warming. This has led to calls to reconnect people with nature, particularly children. Programmes in green spaces are important for encouraging and enabling people to connect with nature and adopt pro-environmental behaviours, but there is a need to evaluate the outcomes. The Green Spaces Learning Places (GSLP) in London offered a range of activities for children and young people to encourage engagement with nature. In our latest study published in the Journal of Environmental Education, an evaluation toolkit was co-developed by researchers and practitioners to identify the impact of participating in the GSLP programmes on the following outcomes:

(1)            Understanding: Participants understand the value and importance of green space.

(2)             Confidence: Participants are confident to use green spaces, as part of our activities
or independently.

(3)            Nature connection: Participants develop a sense of place with green spaces, and
pass this down through generations.

(4)            Wellbeing: Participants have restorative and meaningful experiences in green
spaces.

(5)            Involvement: Participants take positive action for, and get involved with, green
spaces.

Sixteen schools took part in Green Spaces, Learning Places (GSLP). The evaluation resources were used with a pre-post survey of 504 school-aged children (5-10 years) and 54 young people (13-19 years), observation of 62 children, and interviews with 26 children and young people. Due to the young ages of some participants in the GSLP programs, existing traditional and validated scales were not appropriate for all participants and some outcomes required a bespoke approach. Therefore, a series of single item measures that directly corresponded to understanding, confidence, nature connection, wellbeing and involvement  were developed and used across all ages for consistency. Briefly, these were:

  • Understanding: ‘do you think parks and places like this are important?’ A ‘happy face’ response demonstrating a participant perceiving green spaces as important.
  • Nature connection: ‘how special are green spaces like this to you?’ A ‘happy face’ response indicated participants may experience a sense of place and meaning
  • Wellbeing, participants were asked ‘how does being in nature make you feel?’ A ‘happy face’ response indicated participants reported positive feelings about being in nature.
  • Involvement: ‘I want to take care of nature and green spaces?’ A ‘happy face’ response to this item indicated participants’ pro-environmental attitudes and likelihood of pro-environmental behaviour,
  • Confidence: ‘how confident or good are you at exploring nature and parks?’

Participants were asked to respond on a 5-point Likert scale to indicate their level of agreement with the items, an example has been presented in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Single-item measure to collect data on understanding.

Based on survey responses from the school-aged children (5-10 years) and young people (13-19 years), our findings suggest the GSLP programmes had a positive influence on increasing participants’ outcomes for the five dimensions we measured. Furthermore, interviews with participants and observation indicators were useful in providing contextual insights that supplemented the findings from the survey.

It was found that participation in GSLP programs significantly improved children’s (ages ranging 5-10 years) before and after ratings of the five outcomes, as shown in Table 1. Although the differences were significant, the changes were relatively modest.

Table 1. Primary School Mean Changes from baseline to follow-up – primary years

Baseline means Follow-up means % Increase
Understanding 3.51 3.62 3.1
Wellbeing 3.34 3.46 3.6
Nature connection 3.30 3.48 5.5
Confidence 3.27 3.46 5.8
Involvement 3.37 3.52 4.5

For the Green Talent program, 54 participants (aged 13 to 19) completed the survey questions with the smiley face response scales. A significant improvement across all dimensions was observed following participation in the program. Interestingly, the differences were much larger, as can be seen in Table 2. National surveys have found a notable ‘teenage dip’ in nature connectedness, this means there is a need for interventions with this age group and these findings suggest they can be very successful. Given the relationship between nature connection and mental wellbeing in adolescents, this is an area for further activity and greater returns.

Table 2. Green Talent Mean Changes from baseline to follow-up – Teenage Years

Baseline means Follow-up means % Increase
Understanding 2.55 3.19 25.1
Wellbeing 2.65 3.11 17.4
Nature connection 2.44 2.93 20.1
Confidence 2.35 2.98 26.8
Involvement 2.02 2.78 37.6

The findings from the psychological evaluation show significant positive influences based on before and after self-reports and qualitative findings related to the five outcomes, which supported the aims of the GSLP programmes. Ensuring sustainable delivery of these programs, with opportunities for children and young people to engage with green spaces as part of these programs, can allow for longer-term evaluation of the effects on participants, as well as on the conservation of green spaces.

The paper shows the value of the collaborative process which provides a model for others in evaluating similar programmes. Furthermore, the positive results related to the five outcome measures highlight the value of engaging children and young people with nature and green spaces through participation in well-designed programmes, not just for the positive impact on wellbeing for participating individuals but also for the conservation of our natural world.

 

Garip, G., Richardson, M., Tinkler, A., Glover, S., & Rees, A. (2020). Development and implementation of evaluation resources for a green outdoor educational program. The Journal of Environmental Education, 1-15.

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Physical and Emotional Access to Nature

Increasing numbers of people live in urban areas with limited access to green spaces and nature. Yet greenspaces are good for people. For example, they benefit physical health through enabling exercise, support mental wellbeing and they are also great for social activities. However, there are inequalities in access to greenspaces and nature, especially in areas of deprivation. The pandemic has highlighted inequalities, for example Natural England’s People & Nature Survey findings show that 71% of children from ethnic minority backgrounds are spending less time outside since March compared with 57% of white children. Similarly, children in households with lower income were more likely to be spending less time outdoors compared to those with greater income.

Urban living

Access to nature is important and unequal, but what is access? Typically access to nature is considered from a physical perspective – the amount of greenspace, or distance to local greenspace and visits to nature – often measured in time spent or frequency. This is often referred to as connection to nature, but to me connection is ‘psychological access’ – a close emotional connection to nature, formally defined by the psychological construct of nature connectedness which brings it’s own benefits. Indeed nature connectedness has been found to be important over and above visits to and time in nature for certain well-being outcomes and pro-nature behaviours.

Research into the benefits of nature has tended to focus on physical access – time and visits are straightforward to measure, but psychological connection matters too. There are parallels here to moving beyond the biomedical model of health to the biopsychosocial model described by Engel back in 1977. The biomedical model of health essentially views people as separate from the environment and affected by events – visits to nature perhaps. The biomedical model is still dominant in some thinking about health.

The biopsychosocial model of health includes psychological and social factors and more recently a ‘One Health’ model of health in BMJ Global recognises that humans are embedded within the rest of the natural world where health depends on biology, psychology and nature – biopsychophysis to continue the model terminology.

Access to nature and connecting people with nature for human and nature’s wellbeing would seem to align with the ‘One Health’ perspective, but does our thinking on access to nature move beyond the traditional biomedical approach? From the biopsychosocial perspective there is little consideration of physical and psychological access to nature – indeed google returned no uses of ‘psychological access to nature’. The term ’emotional access to nature’ does have some limited use, but very little (5 returns) in the research literature.

There is though increasing recognition of the psychological nature connectedness and some important work in this area has been co-ordinated by Natural England. Connecting people with nature is one of four strategic programmes in Natural England’s recent policy paper. This sets out to ensure that there are ‘nature-rich’ places close to where people live, enabling ‘environmentally deprived’ communities access to nature on their doorstep so that they can ‘enjoy nature’. Enjoyment is emotional and physical access to nature on the doorstep (so that it is there to notice and enjoy everyday) is also a key part of developing a psychological connection.

Access wise, the positive news is that nature connectedness is more consistent across demographics where physical access may be compromised. It is relatively consistent across socio-economic groups (AB = 64; C1 = 60; C2 = 60; DE = 61) and levels in the non-Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) population are much the same (61) as the BAME population (63). We can all have a love of nature, which is further reason for fair physical access.

Where nature connection does differ significantly is between men (58) and women (64). And between adolescents (47) or young adults compared to other age groups (63). So the question of access might be how do we help provide men and adolescents with emotional access and connection to nature?

As ever, it’s not straightforward. In the first instance, for some, nature is a place to help manage emotions, rather than develop an emotional connection. Recently, we published the results of our work with YMCA residents who took part in a 9-week programme delivered by Derbyshire Wildlife Trust. The programme consisted of one full day per week getting involved with nature conservation skills in natural environments that participants had limited access to. The people taking part may have experienced homelessness, abuse, mental health problems, substance misuse, self-harm or exploitation. Those taking part talked of being ‘away’ from the stressors of complex lives and finding emotional space and calm. Given their circumstances, nature was a place away, a place to help manage emotions rather than develop an emotional connection – although a growing respect for nature did start to emerge.

We know that some people find managing their emotions difficult and in other research we’ve found that easier emotional regulation plays a part in explaining how nature connectedness benefits wellbeing. Further, the benefits from easier emotional regulation were not associated with those from emotional engagement, highlighting the different roles and reasons for psychological access to nature.

In sum, rightly so, there is a growing focus on overcoming the barriers to physical access to nature for health and to help manage emotions for mental wellbeing. But physical access is also a step to psychological access to nature and emotional connection for worthwhile and sustainable living. Just as the biopsychosocial model gives a better understanding of health, a more nuanced understanding of access can deliver better outcomes – with benefits to physical health, mental wellbeing and pro-nature behaviours.

 

Richardson, M., Richardson, E., Hallam, J., & Ferguson, F. J. (2020). Opening doors to nature: Bringing calm and raising aspirations of vulnerable young people through nature-based intervention. The Humanistic Psychologist, 48(3), 284–297. https://doi.org/10.1037/hum0000148

 

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