Children play in urban park. It is important to increase both knowledge and connection to nature of children and adults, especially in cities, where the disconnection from nature is bound to grow as cities expand more and more. Photo credit: Marcela, PxHere. This photo is available under a Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license.

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Cities occupy about 3% of total land area, yet more than half of the world’s population resides in urban areas, and by 2050 almost 70% of the planet’s inhabitants will live in urban areas. Urbanization has progressively disconnected humans from the experience of nature. This “extinction of experience” is a major concern since interaction with nature plays an important role in people’s health and well-being, and also since it can undermines people’s emotions, attitudes and behaviour toward nature. The objective of our research was to explore how living in cities, where opportunities to experience nature are reduced, influences cognitive (ecological knowledge) and affective (affinity to nature) relations to nature. We conducted four large surveys (N=1706) of urban and rural inhabitants in Israel to explore differences in ecological knowledge, measured as ability to identify common plant, bird and butterfly species, and emotional connection to nature. We showed that individuals living in the cities had lower knowledge about species and connection to nature than the rural inhabitants. Similarly, individuals who spent most of their childhood in urban areas demonstrated lower ecological knowledge and connection to nature than their rural counterparts (childhood residency). Altogether, participants demonstrated poor species identification skills with an average of 3.8 species identified correctly (out of 12). The ability to identify species was particularly low for urban residents (mean=2.48) compared to rural dwellers (mean=6.56) and 96% of urban residents and 50% of rural inhabitants did not manage to identify even one species of butterfly correctly. Both urban and rural respondents’ species identification skills and connection to nature increased with age and level of education. Results from this study highlight the importance of strengthening connection to nature and knowledge about it, particularly in cities, as affective and cognitive relation to nature can help develop strong pro-environmental attitudes to safeguard nature.