Science is not the only beneficiary of nature-based ‘citizen science’ projects – taking part also boosts the wellbeing of participants and their connection to nature, according to research published today [09 February] in People and Nature journal.
The study, ‘Nature Up Close and Personal: A Wellbeing Experiment’, is the first large-scale study to measure the wellbeing benefits to the volunteers taking part in citizen science projects – such as the wildlife recording activities providing data that are vital to assess environmental change. It was conducted during the pandemic restrictions of 2020 by the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH), the University of Derby and the British Science Association.
Five hundred volunteers from across the UK were randomly assigned to carry out a 10-minute nature-based activity at least five times over eight days: a pollinating insects survey, a butterfly survey, simply spending time in nature and writing down three good things they noticed, or a combination of both. The groups were surveyed both before and after taking part to assess differences in their connection to nature, wellbeing and pro-nature behaviour.
The researchers found that all volunteers showed increased scores in wellbeing and feeling connected to nature after completing their activities. Participants’ comments included:
“It gave me permission to slow down”; “It made me more aware of nature in all aspects of the environment”, and “It reminded me that small things can make a big difference to my mood”.
In addition, those writing down three good things they noticed, either alone or when combined nature recording activities, reported they were more likely to adopt pro-nature behaviours beyond their involvement in the project, such as planting more pollinator-friendly plants in their gardens, or creating shelters for wildlife, showing that taking part in citizen science has even more benefits for nature.
Dr Michael Pocock, ecologist and academic lead for public engagement with research at UKCEH, said: “Being in and around nature is good for our wellbeing, and we’ve shown that focused, active engagement with nature is just as important – whether that is ‘mindful moments’ in nature or taking part in citizen science.”
He adds: “This has been a valuable exercise for us in exploring how we can make citizen science even better. We now know that if we design future projects with additional nature-noticing activities, for example, we can enhance people’s own connection to nature, while still collecting valuable data.”
Co-author Professor Miles Richardson, who leads the Nature Connectedness Research Group at the University of Derby, said: “People connect with nature in different ways, so it’s great to see nature-based citizen science can provide another form of active engagement that can strengthen the human-nature relationship. When combined with noticing the positive emotions nature can bring, citizen science and help unite both human and nature’s wellbeing.”
There are many nature-based citizen science projects run by different organisations across the year. UKCEH welcomes support from anyone interested in volunteering to get involved with recording wildlife via the iRecord website https://irecord.org.uk/ and free-to-use apps for butterflies: https://www.brc.ac.uk/app/irecord-butterflies and the UK Pollinator Monitoring Scheme: https://ukpoms.org.uk. Records from these citizen science projects are used in vital scientific research to understand changes in our wildlife.
Nature Up Close and Personal: A Wellbeing Experiment, is published in People and Nature journal on 09 February 2023 (DOI https://doi.org/10.1002/pan3.10432 )
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Notes for Editors
Nature-based citizen science projects are those where the public voluntarily observe and record data for the purposes of research and environmental monitoring, enabling the creation of much larger and meaningful data sets than scientists can collect working in isolation. In 2022, volunteer recording and citizen science projects across the UK contributed over 2.2 million records, including nearly 1.5 million images, to the Biological Records Centre at UKCEH, which are used for government reporting on UK biodiversity trends. (Source: UKCEH Annual Review 2022)
Nature Up Close and Personal: A Wellbeing Experiment was a one-week randomised controlled experiment to test the impact of nature-focused activities on people’s connectedess to nature and wellbeing. Five hundred people were recruited, randomly assigned to one of six groups and asked to participate five times in their randomly assigned activity over an eight-day period.
The Pollinator flower-insect activity required participants to spend ten minutes counting insects visiting a patch (50cm x 50cm) of flowers, then submit the records on the UK Pollinator Monitoring Scheme webpage https://ukpoms.org.uk/. The Butterfly survey asked the participants to spend ten minutes looking and identifying butterflies on a walk or in a single location, and to submit results using the iRecord Butterflies app. The ‘Three Good Things in Nature’ activity asked volunteers to spend ten minutes in a natural green space, looking and listening to the world around them, and to write down three good things they had noticed in nature.
About the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology
The UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH) is a centre for excellence in environmental science across water, land and air. Our 600+ scientists work to understand the environment, how it sustains life and the human impact on it – so that together, people and nature can prosper. We have a long history of investigating, monitoring and modelling environmental change, and our science makes a positive difference in the world. UKCEH runs several ongoing citizen science projects, which you can see here.
About the British Science Association
The British Science Association (BSA) wants to see a future where science is more relevant, representative and connected to society. The charity develops UK-wide science engagement activities and programmes for children, young people and communities underrepresented in, and underserved by, science.
The BSA delivers its work through the education sector, public-facing events and campaigns, grant-making, community engagement programmes and stakeholder influencing, with a particular focus on improving equality, diversity and inclusion in science.
People and Nature
Nature Up Close and Personal: A Wellbeing Experiment
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