A new research project has launched called ‘Nature up close and personal: A wellbeing experiment’, investigating the relationship between nature connectedness and wellbeing. The collaboration between the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH), the University of Derby and the British Science Association (BSA) is asking the public to get up close and personal with nature to determine what effect engaging with and being aware of nature has on their wellbeing.
Thousands of volunteers from across the UK are needed to take part in simple, 10-minute, nature-based activities for five days across a week. Participants will then be asked to feedback on their experience using an online form.
The new study has been funded by a COVID-19 urgency grant from the Natural Environment Research Council. Over the past few months, the role of nature and the great outdoors has been vital for many people – helping to improve our mental health and wellbeing, and boosting the nation’s morale.
Dr Michael Pocock, an Ecologist at the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, who is leading the project, hopes it will provide new evidence around the benefits of citizen science:
“Although there is already lots of evidence of the positive impact the natural environment has on our wellbeing, many of the studies have been on exposure or time spent in natural spaces, rather than how engaged with nature people are. We hope that through this new project, we will discover the impact of different types of nature-based activity on our wellbeing and connectedness with nature.
“Hopefully, we will even be able to identify how different types of engagement with nature provide different impacts on the participants. We can then make evidence-based recommendations on how to develop activities to help mitigate the negative effects of social isolation. This is particularly relevant now with the effects of the COVID-19 crisis.”
The ‘Nature up close and personal’ project will run for a duration of six weeks from 14 July 2020 until 25 August 2020. Participants can sign up at any point over the six-week period, then participate in their nature-based activities across a week. The participants will be divided into five groups, each doing a different nature-based activity – from noticing to recording nature.
A private garden or access to masses of open space is not required – a local park, patch of weedy ground, or even a balcony is all that is needed. And with activities taking between 10-15 minutes a day, the project team hope that even the busiest of people will be able to easily join in.
Currently, researchers know that simple exposure to nature, such as fresh air and exercise, has benefits for wellbeing and mental health, and so these activities are being actively promoted as part of people’s daily exercise regimes.
Given that so many citizen science projects involve measuring or being surrounded by our natural environment, it would seem likely that taking part in these types of activity would also boost our wellbeing. However, until now there has been little research into the benefits. ‘Nature up close and personal’ will be the first time researchers combine citizen science and nature-connectedness to look at the impact on wellbeing.
One of the lead researchers in this project, Professor Miles Richardson, who leads the Nature Connectedness Research Group at the University of Derby, explains how this project builds on what we already know about nature connectedness:
“We know that getting up close and personal with nature is good for wellbeing, but nature-based citizen science has a different focus to the noticing nature activities we’ve tested successfully before. Rather than simply enjoying the sounds, sights and beauty of nature, citizen science requires people to identify wildlife and directs people to engage with nature in a methodical way.
“In this project, we will test whether the benefits of citizen science are unique, add to or complement those that ask people to simply enjoy the good things in nature. The results will enable us to make recommendations on the most effective ways to engage with nature for wellbeing.”
Katherine Mathieson, Chief Executive of the British Science Association, considers the importance of citizen science, especially in the context of COVID-19:
“For many of us at the moment, getting outside and being close to nature has been one of the few ways we can boost our mood and re-energise ourselves. Although necessary to prevent the spread of the virus, there are serious concerns about the impact that ongoing restrictions and social distancing measures are having on people’s wellbeing. By using nature-based citizen science in parks, gardens or as part of our daily exercise routine, we could potentially mitigate some of the negative effects of social isolation as well as offering a great way for the public to be involved in science and real-life research.”
To get involved, visit www.ceh.ac.uk/natureupclose to sign up and get started.