Did Lockdown Spring Bring a Lasting Connection to Nature?

A blog with Dr Carly Butler.

Many of us found a friend in nature during the first lockdown in Spring 2020 but new data suggests this was just a short-term relationship for some. The latest data from Natural England’s People and Nature Survey shows that levels of nature connectedness fell by 25% between April 2020 and April 2021, meaning fewer people reported feeling a part of nature. This matters as higher levels of nature connectedness bring better mental health and more pro-nature behaviours.

It’s not that people have stopped visiting nature, as the proportion of people accessing green and natural spaces grew during lockdown and has stayed higher. As lockdowns eased, it’s likely that people took the opportunity to meet with others and engage in outdoor activities. But it seems that the boost to ‘noticing nature’ in the quiet times of April and May 2020 has diminished. The data shows a 13% drop in the percentage of people reporting they are taking time to notice and engage with nature, such as listening to birdsong or noticing butterflies. This is important as our previous analysis showed that noticing, rather than recent visits, explained higher levels of wellbeing.

Nature connectedness, noticing and visiting nature 2020 to 2021

While it makes sense that attention may have shifted away from nature to people and other activities after being kept apart for so long, the chart shows we must not neglect our relationship with nature. Even though visits to green spaces have remained high, noticing and deeper connection to nature have faded – a visit to nature does not guarantee connection. Research has shown that taking time to notice nature is vital for nature connection, and simply noticing nature leads to greater mental wellbeing for humans – and nature too. It’s important to pause and find moments to tune into the sounds, sights, smells and beauty of nature to foster our relationship with it.

The drops in nature noticing and connection are notable. Although 25% between April 2020 and April 2021, this fell to 16% between May 2020 and May 2021 – interventions that can boost nature connectedness by 16% would be a great success! We need to wait for release of the full dataset to see if these falls are statistically significant and understand them more fully. We will also be exploring the relationships between nature connection and other behaviours and wellbeing measures. The PANS data now covers a full year which gives a good seasonal overview of shifts in our relationship with nature. For example, the dip in nature connection, noticing nature and visits in September 2020 seems to be linked. Visits and noticing nature started to increase again in Spring 2021, but nature connection levels remained low. It will be interesting to see what the annual data looks like in future years without lockdowns. To address the loss of wildlife and recent strains on mental wellbeing, we need to find a way of developing a new relationship with nature that lasts.


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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