Nature Connection Research Group

The Nature Connection Research Group encompasses nature connection and planetary health projects, including researching wellbeing benefits of outdoor walks, gardening or engaging with wildlife; emotions relating to climate and ecological crises; and offering therapy outdoors.

Connecting with nature has long been proposed to have physical and mental health benefits, with the scientific evidence base developing in relatively recent years. Epidemiological evidence indicates that individuals from more deprived socio-economic areas may have most to gain from greenspaces, yet many individuals do not engage in nature connection activities. Much of our research has sought to focus on means of nature connection that are accessible to all, recognising that many people do not have their own gardens or the funds to travel regularly or buy equipment. Thus most of our work on engaging with wildlife has focused upon garden birds, as these are generally accessible across all socioeconomic groups in the UK; projects relating to gardening have mostly focused on community gardens or allotments etc. Other projects seek to increase the accessibility of nature connection. 

The group aims to enable and support collaborations between individuals working in this area, develop new areas of research and provide an opportunity for members to receive feedback on presentations from supportive peers. Most members are linked with the Department of Clinical and Health Psychology at University of Edinburgh, though anyone with related research interests is welcome to join (e.g. doctoral students, academic staff or clinicians and members of aligned community groups). Projects collaborate with numerous external partners, such as NHS Lothian, NHS Forth Valley, NHS Dumfries & Galloway, The Venture Trust and various community groups. Work by our students has informed the development of the proposed Biodiversity Strategy for the University of Edinburgh and supported the use of tools for assessing biodiversity in relation to people through the EDINA Greenspace Infrastructure Mapping App. 

Our project areas include: 

  • Human animal interactions, both via spending time outdoors with domesticated animals and via engagement with wildlife  
  • The impact of biodiversity on observed relationships between greenspace and well-being 
  • Well-being effects from volunteering in greenspaces, including gardening and citizen science 
  • Public understanding of shared outdoor spaces  
  • How nature connection may facilitate the present-moment awareness component of mindfulness  
  • Benefits and barriers to community gardening  
  • Human relations with plants and landscapes 
  • Wellbeing benefits of houseplants  
  • Effects of nature connection activities on sleep quality 

Find out more about our research group