Blog post

Noticing and connecting with nature during the pandemic

Dr Iain Hamlin, Post-Doctoral Researcher, and Miles Richardson, Professor of Human Factors and Nature Connectedness at the University of Derby and Head of the Nature Connectedness Research Group, examine how noticing, connecting with or spending time in nature during the coronavirus lockdowns has affected the wellbeing of both ourselves and our natural environment.

By Professor Miles Richardson - 19 January 2021

During the restrictions to control the coronavirus pandemic, people have visited and noticed nature more. The new People and Nature Survey (PANS), developed by Natural England, provided some useful data to explore how nature benefited the nation's mental wellbeing during the coronavirus restrictions.

Building on some of our previous research, the survey also allowed us to compare how longer-term physical and psychological relationship with nature, and shorter-term visits and noticing of nature, were associated with wellbeing - and as human and nature's wellbeing is rarely considered together, pro-nature behaviours.

Positive outcomes

Given the continued restrictions, further understanding of how nature can benefit wellbeing is important. Therefore, we've published the full report ahead of peer review.

PANS asked several thousand members of the public questions about how connected they are to nature, how often they visit natural spaces and how much they notice nature. The survey also collected information on pro-nature conservation behaviours and several wellbeing measures: happiness, loneliness, life satisfaction and the sense that one's life is worthwhile.

First of all, we analysed the extent to which these wellbeing variables and pro-nature conservation behaviours are predicted by people's long-term relationship with nature: the time spent in nature over the past 12 months and nature connectedness.

We found that both more time spent in nature and a greater connection to nature were related to several positive outcomes: life satisfaction, happiness, a worthwhile life and pro-nature conservation behaviours.

Experiencing nature

We then turned our attention to experiences of nature during the pandemic restrictions.

Our analyses revealed that both the number of recent visits to green spaces and increased time noticing nature were associated with increases in life satisfaction, happiness and the sense of one's life being worthwhile.

Rather than an increased noticing of nature increasing loneliness, the findings could well reflect that as loneliness increases, people turn to nature and spend more time noticing it…

The more people visited and noticed nature during the pandemic, the greater their wellbeing.

Increases in noticing nature were also positively associated with pro-nature conservation behaviours and greater loneliness.

Which posed the question, so noticing nature makes you lonely?

The answer is no. As a cross-sectional survey the direction of this relationship is unknown. Rather than an increased noticing of nature increasing loneliness, the findings could well reflect that as loneliness increases, people turn to nature and spend more time noticing it, buffering the effect of reduced social connectedness that has been found in other research.

Finally, we examined all of these variables together so that we could better understand the relationship between wellbeing and the quality of long-term and short-term relationships with nature.

Tuning in

Interestingly, recent nature visits during lockdown didn't account for any increase in wellbeing over and above that caused by long-term visits. However, recent increases in noticing nature were associated with a greater sense of having a worthwhile life and more pro-nature conservation behaviours.

These results highlight the importance of having a long-term relationship with nature, but also suggest that recent increases in noticing nature can bring psychological benefits regardless of one's historical relationship with nature.

The results also confirm an emerging and important finding: that connection to, and simple engagement with, nature bring benefits over and above those derived from simply spending time in nature.

As well as spending time in nature, we also need to tune into nature and develop greater nature connectedness if we want to maximise the benefits to our own, and nature's wellbeing, perhaps even more so during the pandemic.

The Nature Connectedness Research Group has provided some resources to help people look after their mental wellbeing during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

There is also an opportunity to take part in a new research project exploring the benefits of watching birds in the garden or close to home. Please note, it is open to adults in the UK only. Find out more about the new research project.

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About the author

Professor Miles Richardson smiling whilst wearing goggles on his head

Professor Miles Richardson
Professor of Human Factors and Nature Connectedness

Professor Miles Richardson leads the Nature Connectedness Research Group.

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