Counting birds and bees: promoting wellbeing of older people through engagement with nature-based conservation activities
Engaging with nature benefits the health and wellbeing of older people. Nearby nature can increase physical activity. Passive as well as active exposure to nature can support recovery from negative mood and improve cognitive functioning. Some forms of nature-engagement can also contribute to eudaimonic wellbeing by improving social contact and providing a sense of purpose and self-efficacy. However, it is not always clear what works best for who and how, and specific benefits will vary with type of engagement and individual needs and abilities.
We hypothesise that a well-designed citizen science conservation project, tailored to different needs and abilities of older people, can encourage nature-engagement and support health and wellbeing.
The project will be carried out at Whiteley Village, a retirement village for people of limited means, housing approximately 500 residents. It is set in 225 acres of natural gardens and woodland. We will work with residents (20) and conservation experts to co-design four tailored interventions (passive vs active and solitary or group based: e.g., watching birds through the window or going on group walks).
A field study (N=80) will quantitatively test the impact of involvement with these interventions (compared to an active control group) on wellbeing (e.g., mood, cognitive functioning, a sense of purpose, physical activity). Additional qualitative analyses will provide in-depth insight into intervention experiences.
This project will examine:
- What motivates and constraints nature engagement among older people
- Whether co-designed nature conservation interventions can increase such engagement
- If and how such interventions can support the health and wellbeing of older people.
The project will contribute to theory development by testing what works, how and for who.
Aims and objectives
The ultimate aim of the project is to develop a set of guidelines for future nature-based interventions that are acceptable, feasible, affordable and effective in promoting nature-engagement and supporting the health and wellbeing of older people.
Professor Birgitta Gatersleben
Professor of Environmental Psychology
Birgitta Gatersleben is Professor of Environmental Psychology. She leads the Environmental Psychology Research Group and associated MSc program. Her research focuses on environmental sustainability and wellbeing, with a particular focus on the role of nature engagement, active transport and consumerism. Her work is applied and interdisciplinary.
Birgitta is co-director of the £6.25m ESRC funded ACCESS (Advancing Capacity for Climate and Environment Social Science) project that aims to champion environmental social science to tackle environmental challenges.
She is PI of an ESRC funded project that examines the wellbeing benefit of nature engagement during the pandemic as well as the "Birds and Bees" project (funded by the Dunhill Medical Trust) that aims to encourage nature engagement among older people through the co-design of conservation activities. She is COI of a UGPN project "Less Netflix, more nature" examining perceptions of green social prescribing.
Birgitta's has worked in many large interdisciplinary research programs focusing on sustainable lifestyles and wellbeing including CUSP (Centre for Understanding Sustainable Prosperity), RESOLVE and Elicit to examine and promote sustainable prosperity and wellbeing.
Dr Kimberley Smith
Senior lecturer in Clinical Health Psychology
I completed my BSc in Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of Liverpool (2004). After this I obtained my PhD from Trinity College Dublin in 2010. My PhD was concerned with exploring the link between depression and inflammation by studying the psychological impact of the Hepatitis C treatment Interferon-alpha. After completing my PhD I completed a postdoctoral fellowship in Psychiatry at McGill University in Canada (2011-2014) where we examined the link between depression and diabetes. I returned to the UK in 2014 to undertake a lectureship at Brunel University London (2014-2016) prior to joining the School of Psychology at the University of Surrey in 2016.
Whitley Village partners
Research groups and centres
Our research is supported by research groups and centres of excellence.
Find out more about our research at Surrey: