University of Derby recognised in UK’s Best Breakthroughs list

6 December 2018

The University of Derby’s research into nature connectedness has today been named as one of the UK’s 100 best breakthroughs, for its significant impact on people’s everyday lives.

The research, led by Miles Richardson, Professor of Human Factors and Nature Connectedness at the University, is honoured in the UK’s Best Breakthroughs list of the last century, compiled by Universities UK, for its pioneering work looking at people’s sense of their relationship with the natural world.

Derby’s Nature Connectedness Research Group was the first in the country to focus on this relationship, and how it can influence people’s wellbeing and pro-nature conservation behaviours.

This year, the National Trust adopted the group’s Pathways to Nature Connection research to inform engagement with their 25 million visitors. The pathways move beyond the traditional approaches to nature engagement based on knowledge and identification. They emphasise the need for a new form of relationship with nature, based on noticing its beauty, positive emotions, finding meaning and showing compassion. Throughout 2018, Professor Richardson is applying his research through writing a guidance brief and attending staff workshops, and his work has informed the redesign of the Trust’s national campaign, ‘50 things to do before you’re 11¾’.

Professor Richardson’s pathways have also helped 100,000 people go wild as part of The Wildlife Trusts’ national 30 Days Wild challenge, where participants aim to do something ‘wild’ each day. He found that taking part improved people’s connection with nature, and that noticing natural beauty led to sustained increases in their wellbeing as well as promoting conservation behaviours.

David Sheffield, Professor of Psychology at the University, is part of the £1 million Improving Wellbeing through Urban Nature research project. His work has identified that noticing the good things in urban nature leads to clinically significant improvements in mental health.

In October, Professor Richardson was invited to brief Natural England’s Science Advisory Board, sharing his work in developing a national indicator for nature connection to establish a population level of connectedness.

On 22 November, a new #NatureForAll Connecting People with Nature publication was launched at the UN Biodiversity Conference in Egypt. Co-authored by Professor Richardson, the report passed through 41 reviewers from 22 countries on six continents.

The list of breakthroughs demonstrates how UK universities are at the forefront of some of the world’s most important discoveries, innovations and social initiatives, including the discovery of penicillin, work tackling plastic pollution, ultrasound scans to check the health of unborn babies and the establishment of the Living Wage.

The list also highlights the less celebrated but vital breakthroughs that transform lives, including a specially-designed bra to help women undergoing radiotherapy; a toilet that flushes human waste without the need for water; the development of a new scrum technique to make rugby safer; a sports initiative that aims to use football to resolve conflict in divided communities; and even work to protect the quality of the chocolate we eat.

The list was compiled by Universities UK, the umbrella group for UK universities, as part of the MadeAtUni campaign to change public perceptions of universities and bring to life the difference they make to people, lives and communities across the UK.

It follows independent research undertaken by Britain Thinks which found that the public has little understanding of the benefits of universities beyond undergraduate teaching. The findings show that research is one of the key triggers to change opinion about universities but for many people, it is an abstract concept.

Professor Kathryn Mitchell, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Derby, said: “It is a fantastic achievement for the University to be featured in the UK’s Best Breakthrough list. We are extremely proud of the work of our academics and difference they are making to people, lives and communities.

“The MadeAtUni campaign is an incredibly important initiative for the University of Derby, as it allows students, alumni, the local community and the wider population to understand the work that we do and the impact it has.”

Professor Dame Janet Beer, President of Universities UK, added: “Universities really do transform lives. The technology we use every day, the medicines that save lives, the teachers who inspire – all come from UK universities and the important work being done by academics.

“The UK’s Best Breakthroughs list is a testament to the difference that universities make to people’s lives and we want everyone to join us in celebrating the work they do.”

The UK’s Best Breakthroughs list: 100+ Ways Universities Have Improved Everyday Life was put together in partnership with universities across the UK. As part of the MadeAtUni campaign, every university in the country was invited to nominate the one thing from their institution which they believe has had the biggest impact on people, lives and communities. Over 100 universities submitted a nomination. The entries cover health, technology, environment, family, community and culture and sport.

You can find out more about the UK’s Best Breakthroughs and the MadeAtUni campaign here

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