23 November 2021 Thriving Communities webinar – Nature Connectedness

Speakers were – 

  • Chair: Jim Burt, Head of Programmes, National Academy for Social Prescribing, seconded from Natural England  
  • Professor Miles Richardson, Professor of Human Factors and Nature Connectedness, University of Derby. He founded the Nature Connectedness Research Group at the University of Derby in 2013. The group has pioneered the first interventions to bring about sustained increases in nature connectedness, bringing about improved wellbeing and pro-nature behaviours.  
  • Emma Spencer, Family Programmer, Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Emma Spencer is the Family Programmer for the Yorkshire Sculpture Park as well as being on secondment as the Learning and Engagement Programmer for the Oak Project. Emma will tell us about the YSP’s family programme and how it encourages families, adults and communities to find meaningful moments in nature and sculpture. 
  • Hana Sutch is co-founder and CEO at Go Jauntly, a health and wellness company who created Go Jauntly. A multi-award winning walking, wayfinding and nature connection app. The app breaks down barriers to walking by helping people discover walks, create their own and share outdoor adventures with friends. Go Jauntly partners with a variety of organisations including Transport for London, Sport England, Greater Manchester Moving, Southampton City Council, London Wildlife Trust, Tranquil City and the University of Derby to increase walking for leisure, active travel as well as nature connection. Hana is the host of the podcast, Nature Bantz; and is a strong believer in tech for good.  
  • Nigel King, Senior Advisor Nature Connection, Natural England  

In this session there was a lively conversation around nature connectedness and how more of us can benefit from it. 

In this session we… 

  • Shared what nature connectedness is, and how it differs to contact with nature.      
  • Gave a summary of the evidence to show how both contact and connection are needed to optimise benefits for health and wellbeing    
  • Offered evidence on the impact of nature connection on physical and mental health 
  • Looked at the surprising lack of nature connectedness among people, and how people don’t have access to nature 
  • Mentioned the silver lining of lockdown and how more of us got out and about into nature 
  • Making nature accessible for all 
  • Demonstrated how to build confidence in applying the 5 simple pathways to nature connectedness to improve policy, planning and delivery (at both organisational and individual level including if possible, through lived experience)   
  • Highlighted the need and opportunity to develop nature connectedness through social prescribing.    
  • Discussed how we will develop partnerships for the future. 


What is nature connection?

Nature connection describes our sense of relationship with the natural world. It includes our emotional and intellectual relationship with nature and how we feel we fit within it.

Nature connection is different to contact with nature, and we need both to optimise the health and wellbeing of people and the environment.

Contact with nature is typically measured in units of time, such as frequency or duration of visits to natural spaces.

Over the last 15 years, nature connectedness has emerged as a new scientifically validated psychological construct. It allows us to define, measure and report on our relationship with nature, rather than just our contact with it.

Why is nature connection important?

The evidence base suggests that it is nature connection, rather than just nature contact, that is most strongly is linked to our wellbeing and our pro-environmental behaviours. In short, visiting nature and contact with it is good for our general health, but it is nature connection that is good for our wellbeing and for pro-environmental behaviours – so ‘both is best.’

  • A 2020 systematic review of 50 studies showed nature connection is related to feeling good & functioning well
  • A 2019 meta-analysis found that nature connection and pro-environmental behaviour were strongly correlated

A bit like a person’s wellbeing, we tend to have a background level of nature connection, but this can also change over time as a result of different things we do and experiences we have in nature.

Activities that engage our senses, emotions, compassion, appreciation of beauty and that create personal meaning have all been identified as ‘pathways’ to develop nature connection. The challenge now is to use this insight to adapt existing nature-based delivery it to better support nature connection. Simple interventions designed to increase nature connectedness are already being adopted by some organisations in the natural environment sector. For example, the Wildlife Trust’s 30 Days Wild Campaign, the Natural Environment Research Council Improving Wellbeing through Urban Nature project, and the National Trust’s engagement services are all designed to increase nature connection and associated outcomes.

How can you measure nature connectedness?

Over the last few years, Natural England led a partnership of key delivery organisations including National Trust, The Wildlife Trusts and RSPB as well as the leading Universities with an interest in this area, with the University of Derby as the lead academic institution for this group. Together they have funded work that has significantly developed our understanding in this area.

One output of this group was a simple, accurate measure of nature connectedness that could be used in a national survey context, with both adults and children – The Nature Connection Index (NCI).

Selected references and further reading


Measuring nature connection

Systematic reviews



Other key publications

McEwan, K., Richardson, M., Sheffield, D., Ferguson, F. J., & Brindley, P. (2019). A smartphone app for improving mental health through connecting with urban nature. International journal of environmental research and public health. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/335781653_A_Smartphone_App_for_Improving_Mental_Health_through_Connecting_with_Urban_Nature