Finding a connection with nature

Miles Richardson is Professor of Human Factors and Nature Connectedness at the University of Derby and leads the Nature Connectedness Research Group. He will be speaking at the Thriving Communities webinar on Nature Connectedness on 23 November at 3pm.

There weren’t many good things about lockdown, but one that struck us was how much people turned to nature. Unable to see friends or family in the early stages, or go indoors later on, they took to their parks, local fields, and woodland areas.

But at the same time as more and more of us turn to our green spaces, the natural world is also in crisis – the warming climate and loss of wildlife show that the relationship between people and the rest of nature is failing.

Nature connectedness is a psychological construct that describes the strength of an individual’s emotional relationship and attachment to nature. It’s grounded in scientific study and the Nature Connectedness Research Group has been conducting research to understand and actively build new relationships with nature. We’ve found that a closer connection with nature can boost the wellbeing of both people and the natural world. But it’s about more than just being in nature. It’s about connecting with it, noticing it, and appreciating it. And the implications for our wellbeing are huge.

Our research found:

  • People’s nature connectedness, rather than contact with nature, predicts a sense that life is worthwhile that is nearly four times larger than the increase associated with higher socio-economic status.
  • During the restrictions to control the pandemic, increases in noticing nature explained levels of wellbeing rather than increases in visiting nature.
  • Simply noticing ‘the good things in nature’ brings sustained benefits to mental wellbeing, with clinically significant improvements for people with common mental health problems.

Yet wider research across 18 countries shows that in the UK we visit nature much less than people in other countries, and our connection to it is lower.

We think this has implications for policy, including social prescribing. Theirs is a need to move beyond access and time in nature, to improving both access and active engagement with nature. Whether that’s through increasing biodiversity in urban areas, activities in the local park, celebrating nature through the arts, or taking people out into wilder spaces when they might not ordinarily be able to.

We encourage everyone to foster a new relationship with nature, one that uses the senses, experiences the emotions, appreciates the beauty, finds meaning and treats it with compassion.

Further details of Nature Connectedness Research Group’s work can be found on the University of Derby website and Miles’ personal blog: findingnature.org.uk and Twitter feed: @findingnature.