press release
Published: 02 July 2020

New study to investigate if Covid-19 changed how we engage with nature

Researchers from the University of Surrey, together with Natural England, are set to investigate how the population engaged with nature during the Covid-19 pandemic and how it compares to interactions pre-lockdown and after.

Aerial view of the coastline with beach and sea

During this unique project, researchers will be examining 1,500 UK households for one year (June 2020 until June 2021) identifying changes in their wellbeing, engagement levels with different natural environments (i.e. garden, countryside) and the activities that they undertake there.

Spending time in nature is recognised as a vital tool in improving our overall wellbeing however very little is known about the impact on our physical and mental health when access is restricted.

Principal Investigator Dr Birgitta Gatersleben, Reader in Environmental Psychology at the University of Surrey, said: “The outbreak of Covid-19 and the subsequent lock down measures have turned our everyday lives upside down and forced us to adopt to a ‘new normal’ where the interactions with our environment have changed significantly. We are trying to understand what this means for people’s mental wellbeing during and post Covid-19 and how this might have changed our ideas of what it means to “get away” and visit places to escape from the demands and stressors of daily life.

“It is important that we understand how nature engagement, or lack off, impacts on wellbeing. This can help to protect and support wellbeing during (this and future) pandemics and support reintegration strategies.”  

The team will also be working with 30 families from different socio-demographic backgrounds across the country to provide an in-depth insight into experiences, during and post lockdown and to understand issues in equality of access to nature and how this has impacted people’s experiences and wellbeing during lockdown. People’s perceptions and relationship with nature will also be investigated via an analysis of social media images of nature and comments posted during lockdown.

Professor Caroline Scarles, Professor of Technology in Society in the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, who will lead on this element of the project, said:  “During lockdown we have seen a significant change in the way in which people engage in leisure and recreational activities as indoor environments have closed, and many outdoor sports and recreational activities have been cancelled. Understanding how people can access nature to engage in leisure activities in new and alternative ways and the different experiences people have had of this across different socio-demographic and geographical contexts is essential to our wider understanding of how nature supports health and wellbeing as part of the green recovery strategy”.

Dr Rose O’Neill, Principal Social Sciences Specialist at Natural England, said: “We know that many more people have been seeking contact with nature during the current restrictions on day to day life, be that in our back gardens or in local green spaces. 

“This research builds on our new set of official statistics - ‘People and Nature Survey for England’ - and will enable us to develop a deeper understanding the role of nature and the outdoors in the nation’s health and wellbeing, and help us drive forward a green recovery.”

The study, made possible by an award from the ESRC UKRI Covid-19 fund, will help support the UK Government Green Recovery Strategy from the virus.


The project team also includes Dr Kayleigh Wyles (Environmental Psychology) and Dr Tracy Xu (School of Hospitality and Tourism Management).

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