People value nature more during COVID-19 pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the relationship that many Americans have with nature, according to a new study from the University of Vermont. The researchers found that more than 25 percent of people who visited parks during the early months of the pandemic had rarely, and in some cases had never, gotten out and explored nature in the previous year.
“Like many people, we noticed a large increase in the number of visitors to urban forests and parks in the early days of the pandemic,” said study senior author Brendan Fisher. “We wanted to understand how people are using local nature to cope with the physical and mental challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.” People value nature more during COVID-19 pandemic
For the investigation, the researchers surveyed visitors to 25 parks and natural areas around Burlington, Vermont. This region is home to 214,000 residents, which is about one third of the state’s population. The UVM team surveyed over 400 people around the time that businesses and schools closed and travel restrictions were issued.
More than 81 percent of the survey respondents reported that having access to parks and nature areas had become more important to them after COVID-19 health protocols were introduced. Many people said that these natural areas provided them with safe spaces to socialize during COVID-19.
The most common reasons for visiting parks were getting outside, exercising, connecting with nature, finding peace and quiet, birding, dog walking, and spending time with children. The survey revealed that 66 percent of park visitors used natural areas to find peace and quiet, while 32 percent reported using outdoor areas as spaces for contemplation.
“Access to urban natural areas may be delivering mental health benefits during a time when they are most needed,” said Fisher. “People need more space for peace and contemplation and safe spaces to be social when so many other outlets are closed to them.”
The researchers noted that demand for green space is increasing at a time when many urban communities are losing natural areas.
“Infectious disease experts predict that viruses, like those causing COVID-19, will increase in frequency in the future,” said study lead author Nelson Grima. “Natural areas and their budgets should be safeguarded and, if possible, enhanced to maintain and improve human wellbeing especially in times of crises, even during a declining economy.”
The study is published in the journal PLOS ONE.
By Chrissy Sexton, Earth.com Staff Writer