There is currently a triple planetary crisis worldwide because of biodiversity loss, climate change and pollution, alongside which there is continually growing concern about people’s physical and mental wellbeing. Nature contributes materially to people’s lives, for example, through pollination services and crops, but also contributes importantly to non-material aspects of our lives, such as quality of life, wellbeing and happiness1.
The benefits of contact with nature require access to ‘greenspace’, where wellbeing is positively associated with biodiversity ‘richness’. However, this relationship is not ‘dose-dependent’: rather, it has been shown that it is the way you engage with nature, rather than the frequency or duration of your engagements, that really matters, especially for benefits related to nature’s wellbeing in the form of pro-environmental and pro-nature conservation behaviours.
According to previous research2, there are five pathways to nature connectedness: contact, beauty, meaning, emotion and compassion. Even brief psychological interventions, such as using senses to notice and then record ‘three good things in nature (3GTiN)’, have been reported to increase connectedness to nature. Recent research shows3 that by simply noticing three positive aspects of nature – such as colourful leaves, birds singing and insects buzzing – we can improve our mood and wellbeing.
Increased nature connectedness is important, as it can bring long lasting and clinically significant benefits to people’s mental health. Moreover, the researchers assert that it is the main driver of pro-environmental behaviour. This study aims to develop understanding of how to structure citizen science activities to activate ‘nature connectedness pathways’, empowering people to engage effectively with biodiversity data and, in so doing, to celebrate the simple joys of nature.
The researchers tested the impact of nature-focused activities on people’s connectedness to nature and their well-being. The experiment, which recruited 500 participants over a two-month period, used randomisation, control groups and a variety of psychometric measures to examine participant responses to citizen science and nature-noticing activities.
The researchers acknowledge the possible limitations of the study – the open public call may have attracted those who were already very connected to nature (and possibly less open to the advantages of being more engaged with nature); it may also have appealed to people more interested in improving mental health and so potentially being more sensitive to interventions. In addition, the sample had high female involvement (81%) – but this is typical of nature engagement campaigns – and, on the whole, participants came from more affluent areas.
The analysis of the self-reported surveys undertaken by participants found that citizen science, 3GTiN and the combination of the two had significant positive effects on nature connectedness, happiness, a sense of meaning and life satisfaction. However, 3GTiN (alone and in combination with citizen science) also had significant positive effects on pro-nature conservation behaviours, which didn’t occur with the citizen science activities alone. All the activities engaged with pathways to nature connectedness, but people doing 3GTiN scored more highly on measures of feeling calm and joyful than those who did citizen science alone.
Citizen science participants did score higher for feeling that they made a difference. The combined activity engaged people with nature connectedness pathways at least as strongly as the highest scoring result of either of the other interventions on their own. The researchers suggest that these results highlight the potential to intentionally design citizen science activities to enhance the pathways to nature connectedness by including elements of the 3GTiN approach, whilst also providing valuable monitoring data.
Taking part in nature-based citizen science can be more than just a way to gather environmental data. This study shows that it can increase well-being and nature connectedness, and – in combination with 3GTiN – can enhance pro-nature conservation behaviours. The researchers suggest that by incorporating more nature-noticing approaches (that is, approaches that emphasise emotional and sensory engagement with nature) into a citizen science project, the benefit to volunteer participants could be increased. These findings evidence the need for public policy aimed at developing a ‘one health’ perspective, supporting communities to notice and monitor everyday biodiversity nearby, guided by the principle that human and ecosystem health is interdependent.
A recent report from the UK’s National Trust surveyed 2 096 adults on their attitudes to nature. It found that simple forms of engagement with nature – such as noticing birdsong and smelling wildflowers – were most closely linked to conservation action. Simply spending time outdoors did not significantly increase the chances of an individual embarking on conservation action – it was what the individual did with their time that made the difference. See: National Trust, Noticing Nature (2020). Available from: https://nt.global.ssl.fastly.net/binaries/content/assets/website/national/pdf/noticingnaturereport_final.pdf [Accessed July 17 2023].
‘Nature Notes’ is a smartphone app that prompts you to notice and record good things in nature.
- As recognised in the recent Communication from the European Commission on A comprehensive approach to mental health (2023).
- Lumber, R., Richardson, M., and Sheffield, D. (2017) Beyond knowing nature: Contact, emotion, compassion, meaning, and beauty are pathways to nature connection. PLoS ONE, 12(5), e0177186.
- Richardson, M. and Sheffield, D. (2017). Three good things in nature: Noticing nearby nature brings sustained increases in connection with nature. Psyecology.
Pocock, M. J., Hamlin, I., Christelow, J., Passmore, H. A., and Richardson, M. (2023) The benefits of citizen science and nature‐noticing activities for well‐being, nature connectedness and pro‐nature conservation behaviours. People and Nature, 5(2): 591–606. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1002/pan3.10432 [Accessed July 17 2023].
To cite this article/service:
“Science for Environment Policy”: European Commission DG Environment News Alert Service, edited by the Science Communication Unit, The University of the West of England, Bristol.
Notes on content:
The contents and views included in Science for Environment Policy are based on independent, peer reviewed research and do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Commission. Please note that this article is a summary of only one study. Other studies may come to other conclusions.
- Data publicării
- 27 iulie 2023
- Direcția Generală Mediu