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People and Nature Survey: How are we connecting with nature during the coronavirus pandemic?

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Natural England’s CEO Marian Spain tells us about Natural England’s brand new set of official statistics which seeks to understand the role of nature in the nation’s health and wellbeing.

Our access to nature has been somewhat restricted since lockdown began on 24 March this year. We know that many more people have been seeking contact with nature during this period, whether that’s in our back gardens, in local green spaces as part of our daily exercise, or from our windows only.

With this in mind, Natural England has sought to understand how adults and children in England have engaged with nature since the government restrictions were put in place, and gauge their thoughts more generally about nature during this time of national crisis.

Our first ever People & Nature Survey for England, published this week, provides a vital insight into how the coronavirus is impacting people’s experience of green and natural spaces, as well as looking at people’s attitudes to nature. It builds on and replaces the Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment (MENE) survey that ran from 2009 to 2019. The new survey will run continuously every month and will be tracking changes each month in relation to Covid-19. The next release (May data) will be out on 7 July.

We worked with partners across the conservation sector, government and in academia to develop this new survey. I want to thank everyone for input and that we welcome feedback on the statistics, which will help give partners the information they need to build a green recovery as we emerge from the pandemic, and beyond.

The results

Research by Natural England and others has shown us how important spending time in nature is for our wellbeing and our People and Nature Survey for England reveals that large numbers of people recognise this.

The survey polled 2,000 people during April 2020, and showed that urban green spaces - such as parks and playing fields - were the most visited type of green and natural space in April, with 41% of adults visiting these green spaces in the last month. Fields, farmland and countryside were also popular with 25% adults visiting, as were woodland and forests (with 24% of adults visiting) and rivers, lakes and canals (with 21% of adults visiting).

The survey also reveals that a smaller proportion of adults spent time outside in April this year (41% at least once in the last week) than their reported average over 12 months (73% at least once a week) which obviously suggests that restrictions around coronavirus had an impact on people using green spaces.

The People and Nature Survey also found:

  • Over a quarter of adults (26%) reported that they had not visited any green and natural space in April.
  • The large majority of adults (86%) with access to a private garden or allotment felt that thee green spaces are important to them.
  • The large majority of adults (89%) agreed or strongly agreed that green and natural spaces should be good places for mental health and wellbeing.
  • The vast majority of adults (87%) agreed that ‘being in nature makes me happy’.

What’s next?

This survey will help us understand how the how time spent in green and natural spaces is changing during Covid-19, particularly as lockdown restrictions are eased, and use that evidence to shape the huge role the natural environment will play in supporting the nation’s future health and wellbeing.

We will also examine how inequalities in access to green and natural space, highlighted by our MENE data, have been exacerbated during the restrictions. In September 2020 the People and Nature survey will release the full quarterly dataset along with a short report capturing trend data and statistics collected in the first quarter of the survey.

Natural England is committed to promoting health and wellbeing through the natural environment, helping more people from a wider cross-section of society benefit directly from the environment.

Nature’s solutions will play an important role in helping the nation recover from the current mergency. This research underpins our work for initiatives like the Nature Recovery Network, which will see more green spaces created near where people live and work as part of a green recovery from the impact of coronavirus on our wellbeing.

And while lockdown continues, as well as launching our #BetterWithNature campaign, we are working with bodies such as the TWT and BlackBirders network to help people connect with nature, wherever they live and whatever their lived experiences.

To see all the key findings and for more information on the survey see the release here.



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