By Irma Arts, Dominic Duckett, Anke Fischer, and René van der Wal.

Read the full paper here.

Social media – with over 4 billion users worldwide – have become widespread means of communication. Social media do not only provide platforms for sharing personal stories, experiences, and opinions, but also influence what we do and talk about. In the first COVID-19 lockdown in Scotland in 2020, physical access to outdoor spaces was substantially restricted. Direct engagement with nature was limited, yet online engagement was not. This offered a unique opportunity to examine the kinds of engagement with nature that are promoted on social media. To do so, we investigated social media communication of nature conservation and outdoor organisations by analysing tweets of four prominent NGOs in Scotland.

We found that in comparison to the year before (2019), the organisations and their followers focused in their tweets much more on nature close to home. Posts referred to gardens, urban nature areas or parks, and to wildlife found in and around the house. Organisations seemed to attempt to support their followers in connecting with nature in the face of restrictions. Emphasis was put on experiencing everyday nature through sound, smell and touch as well as visual enjoyment. Links between being in nature and mental well-being were also addressed.

While the focus on nature close to home increased, tweets that aimed at campaigning for environmental action became less prominent. In 2019, this had been an important theme for the conservation and outdoor organisations that we studied. This theme receded to the background in 2020, and, where mentioned, was linked to talking about a ‘green recovery’ from the pandemic.

We conclude that while social media tend to promote more spectacular and highly attractive places, the COVID-19 crisis opened up possibilities to highlight other, more mundane stories and ways of interacting with nature, and use social media as a tool to connect people to local nature.