Being connected to nature found to play vital role in pro-nature conservation behaviours.
There’s no wellbeing without nature’s wellbeing. Yet, nature is in crisis – the Living Planet Report showed that 60% of animals have been lost since 1970 and in their 2019 global assessment, IPBES emphasized how the current era of mass extinction poses an urgent threat to human civilisation. Nature’s recovery depends upon changes in human behaviour, but which factors best explain pro-nature behaviours? Sadly, there is a huge disparity in awareness, coverage and psychological research into the behaviours that lead to 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.
Our latest research paper, published open access in People & Nature, is the first of its kind, using the first specific validated measure of pro-nature conservation behaviour (ProCoBS). Working with the National Trust we ran a nationally representative YouGov survey of 1298 adults to explore how the factors below related to pro-nature conservation behaviours using our new ProCoBS measure:
- Nature Connectedness
- Time in Nature
- Actively tuning into nature (e.g. direct engagement through listening to bird song)
- Indirect Engagement with Nature (e.g. nature books and programmes)
- Knowledge and Study of Nature
- Valuing Nature
- Concern for Nature
- Pro-Environmental Behaviour
Together these factors explained a 70% of the variation in people’s actions for nature – this is an unusually high figure for this type of research. Key factors that best explained pro-nature conservation behaviours centred on connection with nature: psychological nature connectedness and actively tuning into nature, which we know increases nature connectedness – psychological and lived nature connectedness if you like. Indirect engagement with nature was also a significant factor, along with pro-environmental behaviours.
Importantly, in analysis examining the relative importance of all the factors in explaining pro-nature conservation behaviour, time in nature, knowledge/study of nature, value/concern for nature did not emerge as significant – there wasn’t a relationship. The lived experience of nature connectedness – engaging in simple nature-activities – emerged as the largest significant contributor to pro-nature conservation behaviour. However, in reality, factors rarely work alone – commonality analysis revealed that just 15% of the variance in people’s level of pro-nature behaviours were directly explained by factors working alone. However, for the majority of occasions when variables worked together, nature connectedness and engagement in simple activities were involved 92% of the time.
The message is clear, nature connectedness and tuning in for simple engagement with nature need to run as a theme through our efforts to encourage people to do more for nature. When spending time in nature it must tap into the activities that increase nature connectedness and involve simple engagement. When studying and sharing knowledge about nature there is a need to ‘activate’ the pathways to nature connectedness – elicit emotion, generate meaning, celebrate beauty.
Speaking after the publication of the IPBES report, Sir Bob Watson, lead scientist of the work, noted the core issue in biodiversity loss was about humans and that we need to ask how do we become more in tune with nature? How do we relate to nature? This research confirms that the key is to tune in and develop a new relationship with nature.
However, wider analysis of the data, published jointly with The National Trust in the Noticing Nature report showed that most people are tuned out. Around 80% of people reported that they rarely or never watched wildlife, smelled wildflowers or drew/photographed nature. 62% of people rarely or never listened to bird song or took a moment to notice butterflies or bees. No surprise then that although 80% of people expressed concern about the state of nature, far fewer actively help its recovery – for example only 29% said they’d created a home for wildlife in the past year. We found that those people with a high level of nature connectedness, did much more– 40-50% more – than those with a weaker relationship.
The biodiversity crisis shows that our relationship with nature is broken (at least in so-called “developed” nations). Our disconnect from the natural world has caused a spiral of disruptions in ecosystems worldwide. To fix this, there is a need to understand both the factors that explain pro-nature conservation behaviours and the types of interventions that are associated with increasing these behaviours. Only then can effective measures be taken to improve the human relationship with the rest of nature in a way that will assist nature’s recovery. Findings from the current study highlight the vital importance that a close connection with nature, and engaging with nature through simple activities which enhance nature connectedness, play in catalyzing efforts to care for the natural world. And the bonus is that they improve human wellbeing too!
This research provides important direction for local initiatives and policies, a need to engage more people in the simple activities that build nature connectedness across all aspects of society for a new relationship with nature. In essence, and in practice, we need a Green Care Code: Stop—Look—Listen to the Nature around you. Campaigns centred around such a code would comprise the pathways of sensory contact, emotion, beauty, and meaning – strengthening our connection to nature and moving us to acts of compassion towards the rest of the natural world.