Citizen science projects include wildlife recording activities that provide crucial data for assessing environmental change. A new study published in the journal People and Nature has found that science itself is not the only beneficiary of citizen science projects. According to the experts, engagement in such projects promotes well-being and a stronger connection to nature.
The experts enrolled 500 volunteers from across the United Kingdom and randomly assigned them to carry out a ten-minute nature-based activity at least five times during a period of eight days. The activities included a pollinating insects survey, a butterfly survey, simply spending time in nature and writing down three “good things” they noticed, or a combination of survey and observation activities. Then, the researchers developed a questionnaire to assess the differences in participants’ connection to nature, well-being, and pro-nature behavior.
The analysis revealed that all volunteers showed increased feelings of well-being and connectedness to nature after completing their assigned activities. Some of their comments included: “it gave me permission to slow down,” “it made me more aware of nature in all aspects of the environment,” and “it reminded me that small things can make a big difference to my mood.”
Moreover, those who were asked to write down three good things about their natural surroundings reported they were more likely to engage in pro-nature behaviors after the experiments, such as planting more pollinator-friendly plants in their garden or creating shelters for wildlife.
“Being in and around nature is good for our well-being, and we’ve shown that focused, active engagement with nature is just as important – whether that is ‘mindful moments’ in nature or taking part in citizen science,” said study lead author Michael Pocock, an ecologist and academic lead for public engagement with research at the UK Center for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH).
“This has been a valuable exercise for us in exploring how we can make citizen science even better. We now know that if we design future projects with additional nature-noticing activities, for example, we can enhance people’s own connection to nature, while still collecting valuable data.”
“People connect with nature in different ways, so it’s great to see nature-based citizen science can provide another form of active engagement that can strengthen the human-nature relationship,” added co-author Miles Richardson, an expert in Nature Connectedness at the University of Derby. “When combined with noticing the positive emotions nature can bring, citizen science and help unite both human and nature’s well-being.”
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