People and nature in a pandemic: Studying nature engagement and wellbeing pre, during and post Covid-19 to support the UK (green) recovery
Start dateJuly 2020
End dateJune 2022
On 23 March 2020, the UK went into lockdown in response to the Covid-19 threat. As a result, many people’s engagement with natural environments will have changed substantively, something which is likely to have had significant impact on their wellbeing. We aim to understand these changes in nature engagement and wellbeing in the UK before, during and after lockdown and help understand what Government and Statutory Bodies can do to ameliorate the impact of Covid-19 on wellbeing now and as part of the Green Recovery from Covid-19. This will be done through four research studies.
Aims and objectives
The project aims to:
1. Examine how wellbeing during and post lockdown has changed and to what extent this is associated with changes in access to- and engagement with- different natural environments. We will explore questions such as:
- To what extent is wellbeing associated with differences in access to natural environments?
- How are vulnerable groups affected?
- Have people established new habits and perceptions of nature during lockdown?
2. Create a mapping of different wellbeing outcomes associated with different types of natural environments and the use of these environments for different activities. We will explore the role of the activities conducted in these environments (passive versus active, alone or with others) as well as specific environmental features (size, biodiversity).
3. Contribute to theory development through improved measurement and examination of “a sense of being away”. We will examine where people find a sense of being away during lockdown. We will examine how perceptions of “being away” change during and post Covid-19 and how this affects the attractiveness of different natural environments (near and far) to get away.
Study 1: Longitudinal survey
A questionnaire examining wellbeing and the use and perceptions of different natural spaces during lockdown. The longitudinal survey will compare data from a nationally representative sample of UK households immediately post lockdown and one year later.
Lead: Birgitta Gatersleben and Kayleigh Wyles
Study 2: Social media analysis
Secondary text analysis on public comments posted on social media in response to videos during the pandemic by Chris Packham and BBC Springwatch.
Lead: Tracy Xu
Study 3: In-depth interviews
An interview study with adults from up to 30 UK households will explore the use of natural environments during lockdown, exploring family dynamics and changes in implicit and explicit (intentional) engagement with natural environments for leisure.
Lead: Caroline Scarles
Study 4: National secondary data analysis
Using the Natural England People and Nature survey, cross-sectional changes in use of and benefits from nature will be derived.
Leads: Birgitta Gatersleben and Kayleigh Wyles
Scenes from the UK's first 2020 lockdown
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.
Professor Caroline Scarles
Professor of Technology in Society, Director of Centre of Digital Transformation in the Visitor Economy
Caroline is Professor of Technology in Society in the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, University of Surrey. Her key research interests lie in the three key areas of: the visual and multi-sensuality within society, social and cultural sustainability and how these are brought together through technology for social good. Bringing together her work on the visual, mobile technology and digital solutions, Caroline's recent research has focused on: enriching the visitor experience through augmented reality and image recognition technology in arts and heritage and the role of immersive experiences (principally multisensory immersions and VR) as providing stimulating environments for healthy ageing. Caroline also conducts research in the area of sustainability through work on the socio-cultural impacts of tourism on communities and pro-environmental behaviour change. Details of Caroline's research and interests for PhD supervision are under the 'Research' tab.
Caroline is lead editor of the journal, Tourist Studies and holds several national and international appointments, including: international advisor for the Geographies of Leisure and Tourism Research Group for the Royal Geographical Society with the Institute of British Geographers, editorial board member for several international journals, invited reviewer for UKRI and international funding bodies, founding member of the International Network for Visual Studies in Organisations (inVISIO) and is Director of Visit Surrey.
Dr Sarah Golding
Knowledge Exchange Fellow
My passions lie in applied health and environment research, and I enjoy working on projects that involve collaborations with colleagues from outside academia, as well as academic colleagues from other disciplines. My research is focused on issues of public health, health inequalities, people-environment interactions, and sustainability (both in health systems and in wider human endeavours). I am a Chartered Psychologist with the British Psychological Society and a Registered Health Psychologist with the Health and Care Professions Council.
I currently work as a Knowledge Exchange Fellow for ACCESS (Advancing Capacity for Climate and Environment Social Science), based at the University of Surrey, UK. ACCESS is a 5-year program of work, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, which will champion and coordinate social science to address key environmental challenges spanning biodiversity, sustainability and decarbonisation.
ACCESS is a team of world-leading social science and interdisciplinary experts led by Prof Patrick Devine-Wright (University of Exeter) as director and Prof Birgitta Gatersleben (University of Surrey) as co-director with Co-Investigators from the Universities of Bath, Sussex, Leeds and the Natural Environment Social Research Network (Natural England, Natural Resources Wales, NatureScot, Environment Agency and Forest Research). ACCESS also includes an extensive partner network including, amongst others, the Universities of Belfast, Cardiff and Manchester, the Tyndall centre, and the National Trust.
Dr Emma White
Research Fellow in Environmental Psychology
Emma’s passion is for research examining the perceptions and benefits of the natural environment, particularly those relating to restoration, wellbeing and health. Emma’s research has included an in-depth examination of what people perceive to be natural in the environment around them, unpicking the concept of naturalness and encouraging researchers to think beyond a natural-urban dichotomy. Other research has examined the psychological benefits of green roofs, helping to open up a new direction of study for those seeking to bring this form of greenery into the urban environment. Emma is also a qualified garden designer and examines the benefits of gardens to wellbeing, as well as the effects of certain design elements on preference and restoration.
Natural England partners
In December 2020, our first (online) interactive workshop was held. The two-day workshop brought together nearly 70 researchers, policymakers and practitioners to share ideas, challenges and experiences with respect to nature engagement, wellbeing and Covid-19.
Download workshop report (PDF)
Progress report January 2021 Progress report June 2021
Gatersleben, B. (2021). Finding freedom in a pandemic? Podcast for the series. Human-land: The environmental psychology podcast.
Gatersleben et al., (2021). Nature engagement & wellbeing pre, during and post Covid-19: Supporting the UK (green) recovery. Progress report, January 2021 (PDF).
Gatersleben, B., Scarles, C., et al. (2021). Nature, women and wellbeing. Paper presented at the Department of Health and Social Care lunchtime seminar event for international women’s day. 9 March 2021.
Scarles, C., Gatersleben, B., et al. (2021). People and Nature in a pandemic, reflections on gender. Paper presented at annual outdoor recreation network conference, 10 March 2021.
White, E. V., Gatersleben, B., Wyles, K. J., Murrell, G., Golding, S. E., Scarles, C., & Xu, S. (2021). Gardens and wellbeing during the first UK Covid-19 lockdown (Research Report No.1) Download Garden Report (PDF)
Xu, T., Murrell, G., Golding, S. Brockett, B. Gatersleben, B. Scarles, C., White, E., Willis, C., Wyles, K. (2021). #Springwatch #WildMorningswithChris: Nature Engagement on Social Media and Wellbeing During Covid-19. Paper submitted.
Gatersleben, B., et al. (2020) People and nature in a pandemic; studying nature engagement pre-during and post Covid-19. Invited Keynote presentation at the fourth Conference on Environmental Psychology in Norway - 19th - 20th of November 2020.
Golding, S. & Scarles, C. (2020). Inequalities in Accessing Nature During COVID-19 Lockdown. Presented at People and Nature in a Pandemic; two day interactive on-line workshop, December 2020.
Natural England (2020). The People and Nature Survey for England: Key findings for the period April to June 2020 (Experimental-statistics)
White, E., Gatersleben, B. & White, E. (2020). Longitudinal examination of nature engagement during & post Covid. Presented at People and Nature in a Pandemic; two day interactive on-line workshop, December 2020.
Xu, T. & Murrell, G. (2020). #Springwatch #WildMorningswithChris: Nature engagement on social media & wellbeing during Covid-19. Presented at People and Nature in a Pandemic; two day interactive on-line workshop, December 2020.
Research groups and centres
Our research is supported by research groups and centres of excellence.
Environmental Psychology Research Group Centre for Digital Transformation Visitor Economy School of Hospitality and Tourism Management Covid-19 research