Connecting with nature during Covid-19

By Simon Willcock, Bangor University

On March 23rd 2020, the Government imposed travel restrictions across the UK as an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus Covid-19. As a part of this people were encouraged to stay at home, only leaving the house for a few permitted activities – including one form of exercise per day. Whilst these restrictions are now being relaxed, they obviously impacted our daily lives hugely. Did they change how we connect with nature?

As a society, technology has enabled us to become increasingly disconnected from nature. Many of us now exercise in gyms, socialise in pubs or via social media, or spend our free time playing computer games online. So, did restricting outdoor exercise to only once a day change our behaviour?

On the face of it, the answer is yes. The lockdown restrictions were accompanied by a period of sunny weather. Coupled with Bank Holidays, the UK would normally see people flock to the great outdoors or ‘escape to the country’; such as the beach, or just an outdoor barbeque. Indeed, to prevent exactly this, beaches, mountains and campsites were closed to visitors as part of the lockdown.

Derwentwater in the Lake District, UK. Photo by Graham Soult from FreeImages

To investigate how the Covid-19 restrictions have impacted how people are connected to nature, we have conducted three survey rounds on PickMyPostcode. The first took place in January (i.e. before any restrictions). We asked people to tell us about the last time they connected with nature – was it in your garden this morning as you had a cup of tea? Was it halfway up a mountain as you went for a hike? Etc. We also wanted to know how they benefitted from that natural connection – did you learn something? Did it help you de-stress? Or where you there to exercise? Other data we collected to describe these patterns included how far you travelled to access the natural area, and if there were any sites you were not able to access.

We repeated this survey twice over the period of lockdown restrictions. We broadly asked the same questions, and the comparison to the first survey will help us to understand how the Covid-19 movement restrictions altered how people interact with the environment. Did people exercise outdoors more or less than before? Did they stay closer to home? Rather than multiple, short trips into the great outdoors, did people combine these into a single, longer visit? Did behaviour change differently for people living in urban and rural areas? We hope to answer these questions and many others, and we will be running further surveys as the UK recovers from the coronavirus crisis.

The reason we have run, and will continue to run, these surveys is because we believe that connecting with nature is a massively important part of maintaining happy and healthy lives. From providing food and water, to reducing stress and promoting healing, the natural world is hugely important to us. We hope our findings could help provide influence policy if a second or third wave of infections does occur, bringing new restrictions to help reduce infection rates but in a manner that minimises the impact to our ability to access nature.

About the author: Dr Simon Willcock is a Senior Lecturer in Environmental Geography at Bangor University. This research is jointly funded by funds from UKRI (ES/V004077/1), The Drapers Company, Bangor University and the NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.

This post is an updated version of one that appeared on the pickmypostcode website:

Suggested further reading

Little, J. (2015), Nature, wellbeing and the transformational self. The Geographical Journal, doi:10.1111/geoj.12083

Hickman Dunne, J, Mills, S. (2019) Educational landscapes: Nature, place and moral geographies. The Geographical Journal

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