Research Summary

Professor Miles Richardson @findingnature, researching our connection with nature and ways to improve it. In May 2013 I formed the Nature Connectedness Research Group at the University of Derby. Our research into nature connectedness has been named by Universities UK as one of the UK’s 100 best breakthroughs for its impact. At the Green Gown Awards 2021 our work won the Research with Impact award and our PhD student won the student award.

Nature Connectedness Research Group

Our nature connections research aims to understand people’s sense of their relationship with the natural world and create everyday interventions in order to improve it for human and nature’s wellbeing. Let nature be your story.

Good for nature. Good for you.

The Nature Connectedness Research Group

What we do

Our story is nature. The human relationship with the rest of nature matters for our well-being, yet the climate and environment emergency shows that the human relationship with the rest of nature is broken. To fix it we need a new more connected relationship that recognises that we are part of nature. A relationship that brings both pro-nature behaviours and improved mental wellbeing.

Nature connectedness captures that relationship between people and the rest of nature. Nature connectedness is a measurable psychological construct that moves beyond contact with nature to an individual’s sense of their relationship with the natural world.

Our Nature Connectedness Research Group was the first to focus on this area. By understanding and improving people’s connection to nature, we aim to bring about associated benefits in wellbeing and pro-nature conservation behaviours. We are proud to work with Natural England, National Trust, RSPB, The Wildlife Trusts and other national nature conservation NGOs (non-governmental organisations). The group’s research has been honoured in the UK’s 100 Best Breakthroughs list, compiled by Universities UK, for its pioneering work.

What we’re working on

We’re working on simple solutions for complex problems of climate change, biodiversity loss and mental wellbeing through improving the relationship between people and the rest of nature.

Connected Treescapes 

Leading a work package on the UKRI/NERC funded Connected Treescapes project which will improve our understanding of these risks and the benefits we could achieve. The team will explore the value of trees to society, including benefits for people’s wellbeing, cultural heritage and wildlife. And the team will provide tools and knowledge to better equip decision-makers to deliver resilient treescapes for the benefit of all.  One of six projects funded as part of the £10.5 million UK Future Treescapes programme from UK Research and Innovation.

Pathways to Nature Connectedness

The pathways to nature connectedness provide a route for people to develop that new relationship. A new relationship with nature that moves beyond utility and control, beyond knowledge and identification. A new closer, healthier and more sustainable relationship with nature comes through noticing, feeling, beauty, celebration and care. See blog, YouTube and postcard for more details.

  • Senses – Tuning in to nature through the senses.
  • Emotion – Feeling alive through the emotions and feelings nature brings.
  • Beauty – Noticing nature’s beauty.
  • Meaning – Nature bringing meaning to our lives.
  • Compassion – Caring and taking action for nature.

National Trust and 50 Things to do before your 11¾

In 2018, the National Trust adopted the group’s Pathways to Nature Connection research to inform their engagement activities, this included helping to apply the pathways to a refreshed version of the national 50 Things to do before your 11¾ campaign in 2019. See blog for more detail.

Noticing the Good Things in Nature

We are interested in developing interventions to improve nature connectedness. We’ve found prompting people to notice the wood things in nature works (see blog and YouTube), see the IWUN project below. Knowing the good things also helps design other nature engagement interventions.

Improving Wellbeing through Urban Nature

We led one of four work packages in the £1.3 million IWUN project, funded as part of the Human Health and Wellbeing Goal of the Valuing Nature Programme. We developed a smartphone-based intervention that prompted people to notice the good things in urban nature. Our paper in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health shows how the app increased connection to urban nature, bringing clinically significant improvements in quality of life for those with living with a mental health difficulty – and bring significant benefits to all adults (see blog). Our article in Landscape and Urban Planning provides a thematic analysis of the good things in urban nature and, combined with the pathways, provides an extended framework to inform many nature engagement activities (see blog).

Nature Connection Index

We are part of the Nature Connection Index Working Group developing a national indicator for connection to nature – with Natural England, the RSPB, National Trust, Historic England, the Wildlife Trusts and others. The research has revealed physical contact with nature and nature connectedness provide additive, but independent benefits to well-being and pro-environmental behaviours. The work has also revealed the level of nature connectedness across the lifespan, identifying a sharp dip in teenage years. See blog post for more.

30 Days Wild

We have been involved in the design and evaluation of 30 Days Wild, the Wildlife Trust’s campaign to get people to engage with nature every day each June. The evaluations for 2015, 2016 and 2017 found that those taking part were found to have sustained increases in happiness, health, connection to nature and pro-nature behaviours.

Pro-nature Conservation Behaviours

To help nature’s restoration and evaluate interventions designed to increase pro-nature behaviours we’ve created the first scale to measure pro-nature conservation behaviours, rather than pro-environmental behaviours often based on our carbon footprint.

Wellbeing – Feeling good and functioning well

In a systematic review of 50 research studies, involving 16,396 people we investigated the links between their connection with nature and two types of happiness – feeling good and functioning well. We found that people who are more connected to nature tend to have greater eudaimonic well-being, and in particular have higher levels of self-reported personal growth. See blog for more details.

How nature helps manage our emotions

The role of nature in the regulation of emotions is often overlooked, we’ve published an account of the health and well-being benefits of nature through balancing emotions.

Nature Connections conference series

We host the Nature Connections conference series. The conferences provide a forum for understanding the scale and scope of the latest research and practice in nature connection, exploring evidence on how nature connection supports delivery of outcomes, and how this might inform the design of future work.

Other Work

Nature of Smartphone Users

A study looking a smartphone use and connection with nature, more details in my blog, see GuardianWildlife Trusts and National Trust also.

The Impact of Children’s Connection to Nature

A Report for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) funded by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, more details in this blog post.

Richardson, M., Sheffield, D., Harvey, C. & Petronzi (2016). A Report for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB): The Impact of Children’s Connection to Nature. Derby: College of Life and Natural Sciences, University of Derby.

Nature: A New Paradigm for Wellbeing – Review Paper

More details here.

Richardson, M., Maspero, M., Golightly, D., Sheffield, D., Staples, V. & Lumber, R. (2016). Nature: A new paradigm for wellbeing and ergonomics. Ergonomics.

Nature Connections Festival 2015 & 2016

A two day spectacle aimed at increasing the relevance of nature to a wider audience, communicating the value of repairing and reconnecting our natural habits and encouraging people to actively engage with nature.

“A brilliant, imaginative, innovative and intelligent project” – Chris Packham.

Reflecting on our Nature

Research study which found that self-refection is a greater predictor of connection to nature than mindfulness.

Richardson, M., & Sheffield, D. (2015). Reflective self-attention: A more stable predictor of connection to nature than mindful attention. Ecopsychology, 7 (30), 166-175.

Connecting to Everyday Nature through Mindful Writing

A paper exploring the rewards of nature that can be found in an everyday landscape was published Februrary 2013 in the Humanistic Psychologist and is available online. The paper informs current quantitative research exploring practical ways to connect to nature.

Richardson, M., & Hallam, J. (2013). Exploring the Psychological Rewards of a Familiar Semi-Rural Landscape: Connecting to Local Nature through a Mindful Approach. The Humanistic Psychologist, 41(1), 35-53.

Press Coverage

Projects below have led to national radio and press coverage, for example in The Telegraph, The Times, Guardian and TES.


If you’d like to get in touch, please use the form below.

1 Response to Research Summary

  1. Pingback: 30 Ways to Go Wild With Science | groweatgift

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