Nature Connection

Photo: Oaks on Knepp Estate

Photo: Oaks on Knepp Estate

Why does nature connection matter?

Connecting people with nature is good for both people and planet. A growing body of evidence shows that spending time in nature is beneficial for mental and physical health, social development and community cohesion.  More recently, researchers have been exploring the concept of “nature connectedness” which moves beyond contact with nature to an individual’s sense of their relationship with the natural world.

Nature connection gives people greater vitality, purpose and happiness, and helps us cope better with anxiety and stress.  Increased nature connection benefits nature too. When people are connected with nature they are more likely to have positive attitudes and behaviour towards the environment. These behaviours will be to a greater or lesser extent and depend on the individual. It could be anything from buying a reusable cup for their coffee and recycling more household waste, feeding the birds and planting certain flowers through to signing petitions, writing to their MP or joining a ‘clean-up’ activity or rally. Nature connection provides the all-important motivation for adopting a more environmentally friendly lifestyle – when connected, harming nature is harming one’s self.

What drives nature connection?

It is often assumed that people in cities are less connected to nature that those who live in rural areas. However, the annual the Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment (MENE) survey does not suggest urban dwellers are significantly less connected to nature than those living in rural areas. Indeed, there is only a weak correlation between demographic data (including age, gender, socio-economic group, ethnicity and region of residence) and nature connection, suggesting other factors play a more important role in driving connectedness to nature.

Recent research shows that connectedness and an emotional relationship with nature is the strongest predictor of pro-environmental behaviour, accounting for 69% of variance in behaviour. Scientific knowledge explains just 2%.  For years, efforts to engage people with nature have based on knowledge or self-interest – we’re driven to know, understand, walk further, run faster, climb, conquer and consume. This new research clearly demonstrates that we need to find new ways to engage people with nature. We need to capture hearts, not just minds.

The role of art in nature connection

The University of Derby recently systematically explored the best ways to build nature connectedness. This research revealed five types of relationship important for nature connection: 

  1. Contact – The act of engaging with nature through the senses for pleasure e.g. listening to birdsong, smelling wild flowers, watching the sunset.

  2. Beauty – Engagement with the aesthetic qualities of nature, e.g. appreciating natural scenery or engaging with nature through the arts.

  3. Meaning – Using nature or natural symbolism (e.g. language and metaphors) to represent an idea, thinking about the meaning of nature and signs of nature, e.g. the first swallow of summer.

  4. Emotion – An emotional bond with, and love for nature e.g. talking about, and reflecting on your feelings about nature.

  5. Compassion – Extending the self to include nature, leading to a moral and ethical concern for nature e.g. making ethical product choices, being concerned with animal welfare

This suggests increasing nature connection is better facilitated by arts-based, sensory and meaningful emotion- based activities. This exciting new insight guides the Bronze Oak Project which aims to pioneer a new arts-based approach to increasing nature connection. As an extraordinary piece of public artwork that has taken its form from one of nature’s most extraordinary organisms, the Bronze Oak has huge potential to engage people with beauty of the natural world

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