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Connecting with nature during COVID-19

by Chris | Member submission, Tips

Ever wonder what happens to the surveys you take on PMP? Simon Willcock & Rachel Dolan from Bangor University have been asking PMP members how they connect with nature, both before and during the coronavirus crisis. Here’s why.

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 have been encouraged to stay at home, only leaving the house for a few permitted activities – including one form of exercise per day. Whilst these restrictions have obviously impacted our daily lives hugely, have they changed 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, does 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.

To investigate how the Covid-19 restrictions have impacted how people are connected to nature, we have conducted two survey rounds on Pick My Postcode. 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 were 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.

The second round of this survey is now live. In this, we broadly ask the same questions, but the circumstances are now dramatically different. This 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. We’ll share our findings when they’re ready.

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. So here are some quick tips to stay connected to nature, even amidst a lockdown:

  • Grow your own herbs and vegetables – Even the least green fingered amongst us can keep a potted herb alive for a few weeks, adding a touch of green to the home and fresh food right at your fingertips
  • Create a hanging basket or window box – Not everyone has access to a garden, but some flowers by your window can help brighten the view.
  • Put up some bird boxes – Whilst we are staying at home, nature is busy getting on with spring. Many birds are returning to the UK on the look-out for suitable places to nest.
  • Watch the world go by – Cats and dogs often spend hours just staring out the window. Not all of us are lucky enough to have a stunning view, but the internet can help those that don’t. Wildlife webcams are freely accessible online, from watering holes in Africa to nesting birds in the UK.

Thanks to everyone who has participated in our study. We’ll be back to ask more questions as Covid-19 evolves and to share our findings as we analyse the data. Until then, please stay safe and we hope you find some way of connecting with nature in the meantime.

Simon & Rachel