Photo by Michael Pocock.

By Michael Pocock, Iain Hamlin, Jennifer Christelow, Holli-Anne Passmore, and Miles Richardson.

Read the full paper here.

Active engagement with the natural world positively affects people’s wellbeing. This is influenced by the quality of the time they spend in nature, and their nature connectedness (the sense of their relationship with nature). One way of understanding this is through the ‘pathways to nature connectedness’, which are: sensory contact, appreciating beauty, gaining meaning, emotionally engaging and showing compassion for nature. People can engage with nature in many ways. One of these is nature-based citizen science, in which people collect data for scientific use and environmental monitoring. One aim of citizen science is to collect good quality data, but here we tested its benefits for people’s wellbeing and nature connectedness.

We ran an experiment in the UK with over 500 public participants. Each person was randomly assigned to a group: a citizen science project (a butterfly or pollinator survey), a nature noticing activity (spending time to notice three good things in nature), a combination of citizen science and the nature noticing activity, or a control group. Each activity provided 10 minutes of time in nature and people were invited to take part at least five times over the next eight days. They could take part in any space with nature that was near to them. Everyone took part in surveys before and after the eight-day period which assessed their connection to nature, wellbeing and pro-nature conservation behaviours, and the extent to which activities engaged the pathways to nature connectedness.

We found that all activities positively affected nature connectedness and aspects of wellbeing;  nature noticing and its combination with citizen science also benefited nature-positive behaviours. All activities engaged the pathways to nature connectedness. There were differences between the citizen science and nature noticing activities in how they engaged the pathways to nature connectedness, but the combination of the two scored at least as well as (and in one measure, better than) each activity individually. Overall, we show these activities are valuable for supporting communities to both notice and monitor everyday nature, contributing to the menu of engagement activities that bring benefits to both human and nature’s wellbeing.