Reconnecting with nature is key for sustainability, says new research

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PEOPLE who live in more urban areas and spend less time in nature are also less likely to do things that help the environment, such as recycling and buying eco-friendly products.

The finding of the new University of Exeter research indicates that policies to preserve and develop urban green spaces and support urban populations to reconnect with the nature around them could help meet sustainability targets and reduce carbon emissions.

Lead author of the study, Dr Ian Alcock from the University of Exeter Medical School, commented on the results: “Over 80 per cent of the English population now live in urban areas and are increasingly detached from the natural world.

“Greening our cities is often proposed to help us adapt to climate change – for example, city parks and trees can reduce urban heat spots.

“But our results suggest urban greening could help reduce the damaging behaviours which cause environmental problems in the first place by reconnecting people to the natural word.”

The study, published in Environment International and funded by National Institute of Health Research’s Protection Research Unit in Environmental Change and Health, analysed survey responses from more than 24,000 people in England.

The team looked at people’s exposure to nature in their local area, their recreational visits to natural environments, such as parks and woodlands and the extent to which they valued the natural world.

The team, including collaborators from the University of Plymouth and Public Health England, found that many green choices were more common in people who lived in greener neighbourhoods or at the coast, and among those who regularly visited natural spaces regardless of where they lived.

The relationships were the same for men and women, young and old, and for rich and poor.

Co-researcher Dr Mat White, of the University of Exeter Medical School, added: “The results are correlational so there is always the issue of untangling cause and effect but our results based on a very large representative sample are consistent with experimental work which shows that people become more pro-environmental after time spent in natural versus urban settings.”