A Scale to Measure Pro-Nature Conservation Behaviours – ProCoBS

Nature is in crisis – the Living Planet Report showed that 60% of animals have been lost since 1970. This decline in wildlife – and the warming climate – both stem from human behaviour.  To find effective ways of increasing pro-nature behaviours requires better understanding and measurement. Thus, a reliable and valid measurement tool is needed. This blog is about the development of a peer reviewed Pro-Nature Conservation Behaviour Scale – published open access in the journal Sustainability.

Surprisingly, given the crisis of biodiversity loss we’ve been unable to find a validated scale focussed on pro-nature conservation behaviours – whereas there are dozens available to measure pro-environmental behaviours. There is a huge disparity in awareness, coverage and psychological research into climate change and biodiversity loss. Yet, “Only by addressing both ecosystems and climate do we stand a chance of safeguarding a stable planet for humanity’s future on Earth,” Prof Johan Rockström, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany.

ProCoBS – a tool to help understand the human behaviours behind wildlife loss.

When I’ve worked with the RSPB and Wildlife Trusts over the last few years they’ve both been keen to measure pro-nature conservation behaviours. So, thanks to a PhD post funded by University of Derby, we’ve developed one – the Pro-Nature Conservation Behaviour Scale – or ProCoBS for short. ProCoBS is a psychometrically validated scale measuring active behaviours that specifically support the conservation of biodiversity. You can download ProCoBS here – free to use, just reference the paper should you publish results from it.

So, what do we mean by pro-environmental behaviours (PEBs) and pro-nature conservation behaviours (PCBs)? We’ve argued that PEBs are mainly positive inactions (e.g. cycle don’t drive, don’t fly) that indirectly impact on wildlife via reduction of carbon footprint and resource use. Whereas PCBs are positive actions which impact on wildlife through improving habitat. Naturally, there is a relationship between resource use and habitat, but we’ve tried to focus on positive actions people can take to help the recovery of wildlife.

A second justification is provided by one of our papers published earlier this year. Statistical analysis in that study showed that pro-environmental behaviours and pro-nature conservation behaviours are distinct factors – that is they form two types of human behaviours that need to be thought of differently. Interestingly, we’ve had some robust challenge (often by psychologists), that it’s not necessary to measure pro-nature conservation behaviours as they are no different to PEBs. However, the best support comes through use. Indeed, such is the interest in pro-nature conservation behaviours the ProCoBS scale is already in use. It was used by the National Trust in a large-scale survey reported in the Noticing Nature report (we’ll be publishing more detailed analysis very soon). The short form gardening factor from ProCoBs is also included in Natural England’s People and Nature survey (alongside the key indicator item from our Nature Connection Index).

There’s much more details in the full paper, but in brief – to create ProCoBS we started by creating an ‘item pool’ – a long list of the many different types of pro-nature conservation behaviours individuals can do. This was refined through consultation with 25 wildlife and biodiversity experts (thank you to The Wildlife Trusts and others). Their opinions were subjected to psychometric scale development analyses to ensure the most meaningful items and best indicators were included in the scale. Data from 300 participants were used to develop the 18-item ProCoBS long form, as well as an 8-item short form. Through some clever analysis, the full scale was found to have four factors or types of pro-nature conservation behaviour the stats said could be grouped (Individual Engagement, Social Engagement, Planting, and Wildlife). In a second study, a subset of 250 of the original participants answered the questionnaire again. The data were used to assess test–retest reliability and construct validity. Results showed that the scale and its short form were reliable (full scale: α = 0.893, short form: α = 0.825) and valid. In a third study, a representative sample of 1298 adults in the UK completed the short form (thank you to the National Trust). Confirmatory Factor Analysis demonstrated a good fit for all factors, indicating that the ProCoBS is a psychometrically robust measure.

Creating homes for nature

Although  recent reports into the decrease in wildlife populations paint a depressing picture, the fact that these declines are accredited to human-induced actions means we can act and attempt to reverse or halt the current trends. Ecologists have started capitalising on green spaces in urban areas as important wildlife habitats. A large proportion of these green spaces are made up of private gardens, thus giving garden owners the possibility of supporting wildlife. Hence various conservation organisations encourage behaviours for wildlife and biodiversity conservation. Simple changes to domestic gardens have the power to increase native biodiversity, making gardens an important tool for nature conservation – these are the types of behaviour we included in the scale. However, not everyone has access to a garden. This does not mean that those people cannot engage in pro-nature conservation behaviours. Indeed, behaviours regarding political participation (for example) are more widely accessible and can have an important influence on public policy decision-making and social change. ProCoBS captures these types of behaviour too.

So, ProCoBS provides a much needed tool for measuring peoples nature conservation behaviours. This will enhance research and impact practical work in the conservation domain for a sustainable future. However, as habitats and cultures differ there is a need for cross-cultural examination of the scale – we know it works well in the UK and that is likely to extend to similar north western European countries – but it’s best to check.

While checking ProCoBS worked we ran it alongside some existing scales. As you’d expect nature connectedness had a positive correlation to ProCoBS of around 0.6. There was a similar level for PEBs. Interestingly, the relationship to the NEP (New Environmental Paradigm) – a measure of environmental concern – was weaker at around 0.3, perhaps indicating the ‘value action gap’.  There was a positive relationship to wellbeing too, but as one would expect, it was weaker, around 0.3.

Having the ProCoBS scale allows these and many other relationships to be explored further. ProCoBS facilitates the examination of underlying motives and factors that determine pro-nature conservation behaviours and, importantly, allows intervention and communication programmes encouraging these behaviours to be evaluated. The short form especially, will be useful to researchers and conservation practitioners who want to employ it in large-scale surveys alongside measurements of other psychological and behavioural constructs, or as a quick evaluation tool to assess the effectiveness of projects and interventions.

In sum, biodiversity loss will have similar devastating global consequences to climate change, yet behaviours to counter biodiversity loss are, by far, less studied than behaviours relating to mitigating climate change. The ProCoBS provides a reliable and valid measurement tool for those seeking to understand and improve actions for nature.


Barbett, L.; Stupple, E.J.; Sweet, M.; Schofield, M.B.; Richardson, M. Measuring Actions for Nature. Development and Validation of a Pro-Nature Conservation Behaviour Scale. Sustainability 2020, 12, 4885. https://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/12/12/4885

About Miles

Professor of Human Factors & Nature Connectedness - improving connection to (the rest of) nature to unite human & nature’s wellbeing.
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