Impact of biodiversity on health: Research finds walk in nature boosts wellbeing
Psychologists have completed a research study as part of a pioneering project at Kew’s wild botanical garden, which is exploring the value of UK biodiversity.
The study at Wakehurst was co-designed and conducted in partnership with Kew, Royal Botanic Gardens, and has found a positive link between children’s connection to nature and their wellbeing following a walk during which they were encouraged to use all their senses to notice their surroundings.
Uniquely, this study had children walk in one of three different biodiverse landscapes and found that those who had a nature walk in the meadowlands reported a stronger connection to nature following the walk than those who visited the wetlands or woodlands.
Dawn Watling, Professor of Psychology at Royal Holloway, University of London, led the nature and wellbeing study which is seeking to understand the impact of biodiverse landscapes on human health.
She said: “We are really excited about the results and see strength in the finding about the link between connection to nature and wellbeing. For children whose connection to nature was low to begin with, we saw greater strengthening of their connection to nature following the walk.
“And having a stronger connection to nature was found to predict more positive wellbeing following the walk.
“Furthermore, we saw that positive changes in wellbeing were associated with positive changes for both anxiety and depression, so we would expect that strengthening children’s connection to nature may indirectly benefit anxiety and depression.”
The finding about stronger connection to nature following the meadowland walk was also interesting, Professor Watling added, the caveat being that the work was carried out last summer during a heatwave, when the wetlands may not have been as wet as usual and the woodlands not as green as usual.
More research is planned to look further into the benefits of different biodiversity landscapes across the seasons to better understand the effects of biodiversity on nature connectedness.
The study findings were shared at the BPS joint Developmental and Cognitive Psychology Sections conference in Bristol yesterday.
The research is the first project to involve human participants at the ‘living laboratory’ Wakehurst, which is also researching the value of UK biodiversity to inform nature-based solutions to critical challenges such as climate change and food security as part of the Nature Unlocked programme of work.
Data from 599 seven to 12-year-olds from 10 schools in the South East was collected before their visit to Wakehurst and following their 30-40 minute walk.
The findings also highlight, in line with previous work, that connection to nature was lower for older children.
Researchers hope to publish the full study findings shortly.