Many Rivers Trusts offer public engagement activities. This is partly in recognition of the need to involve local people in conservation, for reasons of sustainability, support and equity. It has always been assumed that the more, better contact, the more likely positive outcomes will result.
Recent research is showing what ‘better’ means, in terms of influencing pro-conservation behaviour. There is a growing realisation that a positive, connected relationship with nature leads to pro-environmental attitudes and well-being benefits. Having a positive relationship with nature is an important part of well being, comparable to other established factors such as income and education. The emerging research in this area can influence our approaches to engagement.
Recent academic research makes a compelling case for adopting a “pathways to connection” approach. RSPB, Natural England, the Natural Trust and others have been working with the University of Derby over the past two or three years and the thinking and practice that have emerged is compelling, robust, and cutting-edge.
Many public engagement activities focus on imparting knowledge in a variety of different ways, while others are more focussed on stimulating a creative or emotional response. It turns out that the former approach may be misguided.
A striking statistic coming from the research is that nature connectedness explains 69% of ecological behaviour while nature knowledge explains only 2%. Visit frequency was found to be less good a predictor of pro-conservation behaviours as connectedness. Wandering aimlessly along a riverbank is clearly nothing like as effective as actually getting involved either physically or emotionally.
The research identifies five pathways to nature connectedness:
- Contact – The act of engaging with nature through the senses
- Beauty – The perception of aesthetic qualities including shape, colour and form that please the senses
- Meaning – Using nature or natural symbolism to communicate a concept that is not directly expressed
- Emotion – An affective state or sensation that occurs as a result of engaging with nature
- Compassion -Extending the self to include nature, leading to a concern for other natural entities that motivates understanding and helping/co-operation
I, for one, have yet to fully absorb these findings and to understand how they will be incorporated into the Activity Pan for our DNAire project to reinvigorate the Aire. Your thought will be very welcome.