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.
All human behaviour takes place in a physical environment. These environments have significant impact on the way people feel, think and act. At the same time people are constantly modifying their physical environment either consciously or not. My research studies these people-environment interactions. I am particularly interested in people's relationship with the natural environment and the link between environmental sustainability and human wellbeing.
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: