People and nature in a pandemic: Studying nature engagement and wellbeing pre, during and post Covid-19 to support the UK (green) recovery
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.
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.
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.
Scenes from the UK's first 2020 lockdown
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.
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 resource editor for Annals of Tourism Research. She holds several national and international appointments, including: executive committee member for BEST EN and the Association for Tourism in Higher Education, international advisor for the Geographies of Leisure and Tourism Research Group for the Royal Geographical Society with the Institute of British Geographers, a founding member of the International Network for Visual Studies in Organisations (inVISIO) and is a non-executive Director for Visit Surrey.
My passion for the natural environment (especially marine environments) has long been engrained in both my professional and personal life. I’m interested in the relationship between humans and the natural world, which is reflected in both my research and teaching. After completing my PhD at the University of Plymouth combining Environmental Psychology with Marine Biology and a post-doctorate position at Plymouth Marine Laboratory, I joined Surrey in 2016 as a lecturer in Environmental Psychology.
I am currently working as a research fellow with Professor Caroline Scarles to examine the impact of the COVID-19 lockdowns on people’s engagement with nature. Using qualitative methods, we will be exploring whether, and if so how, the natural world played an important role in helping people to cope with the strains of lockdown and the COVID-19 pandemic. Our study is part of a larger project that is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council as part of the UKRI response to COVID-19; the overall project is led by Dr Birgitta Gatersleben and is being conducted in collaboration with Natural England.
In 2019, I completed a PhD in Health Psychology (including Stage 2 health psychology training), funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. My doctoral research explored antimicrobial stewardship in UK livestock farming from a One Health perspective, using both qualitative and quantitative methods to investigate the concept of antimicrobial stewardship amongst farm veterinarians, farmers, and veterinary students. During my Stage 2 health psychology training, I was involved in projects exploring diverse topics including breastfeeding, stress and wellbeing in emergency call handlers, and organ donation interventions. I am a Chartered Psychologist with the British Psychological Society and a Registered Health Psychologist with the Health and Care Professions Council.
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
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.
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. (2021). Finding freedom in a pandemic? Podcast for the series. Human-land: The environmental psychology podcast.
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.
Find out more about our research at Surrey: