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How Covid has impacted on our thinking about the natural world

During May and June, we ran a short survey to find out more about people’s views and concerns about our natural world, and the role that access to natural spaces had played during the corona virus pandemic.  Nearly 230 people responded to our survey, and we will be using the findings to help shape and inform our future programmes of work. 

Who Responded? 

Most respondents were over 25, so we know we need to do some further work to capture the view and insights of young people. 

Nearly everyone who replied had some access to green or natural spaces during this time, though we know that this isn’t the case for everyone. 

Most respondents were from Cumbria and Lancashire and we can assume that most respondents already had an interest in protecting and conserving the environment, with 67% reporting that green and natural spaces were just as important to them now as they had always been. 

Key Findings

  • Most people (66%) reported discovering new spaces, footpaths and routes near to where they lived.   
  • Footpaths and rights of way and woodlands were the most visited spaces, followed by streets and local parks, and over half of people said that they will continue to access green and natural spaces more local to them once restrictions are lifted.  “I have decided that I want to spend more time in nature locally and cut my driving and travel.” 
  • People reported a range of positive benefits from having access to natural spaces during ‘lock down’ and restrictions, with 75% reporting positive benefits to their mental health, and 62% reporting benefits to their physical health.  64% of people also reported that access to natural space provided an activity at a time when other options for recreation were limited.
  • However, a smaller number of people recorded negative impacts, in particular reporting concerns around maintaining social distancing and feeling confident to access spaces safely when other people are around, especially following an increase in the number of people accessing green spaces that they might normally use.
  • Nearly everyone reported seeing some positive changes in the nature and wildlife around them, recording increases in birdsong, wildlife and insects, with 35% of people reported that they now wanted to do more to help conserve the natural world. 
  • All respondents placed great value on being able to access green and natural spaces, with 67% saying that they are just as important as they were before, and 33% reporting that they were now even more important to them. 
  • We can see that the benefit people have gained from our natural spaces has positively  influenced their interest in supporting charities working to protect these spaces.  Half of respondents already donated to causes which support the natural world and environment, and 12% said that they now might give more in the future.  Nearly 1/3rd reported that they had not given to support the natural world before but might now in the future. 
  • We’ve also seen an increases in the volume of people willing to donate through outdoor contactless points, with just over 50% of respondents reported that they would be likely to donate in this way, compared to 31% when we surveyed people in this issues in 2018 survey.  

Emerging Themes  

Several broader themes also emerged from the survey, and which we will be working to explore further. 

  • Health and Wellbeing – Our survey highlighted the vital role that access to green and natural spaces plays in supporting health and wellbeing, and in particular mental health and emotional wellbeing. 
  • Managing visitors to the area – People identified the challenges in managing access to green and natural spaces, and balancing the needs of both residents and visitors.
  • Equality of access– People recognised that not everyone had equal access to green and natural spaces and were keen to explore how this could best be tackled.  
  • Transport and Parking – Restrictions on travel highlighted the hugely positive impact of reduced traffic in and around our natural spaces.  People were keen to explore how we could build on this and improve infrastructure for other forms of more environmentally friendly travel to and around our green spaces – including cycling and improved public transport. 
  • Behaving Responsibly People’s reported concerns about a perceived lack of knowledge or education around how to safely and considerately access the countryside and natural spaces.  Many people reported that they thought people were  now less familiar with the Countryside Code. 
  • Learning from the crisis to improve the management of our natural spaces – People wanted the wider response to current crisis to have nature at its heart.  They highlighted positive consequences of restrictions which could be captured and used to inform future developments in the management of green / natural spaces. For example, looking at the impact of reduced traffic and footfall across the Lake District National Park and exploring what this has shown us and what could be taken forward in the future. 
  • Biodiversity loss – People expressed broad concerns regarding biodiversity loss, in our natural spaces, and suggested how changes in land, environmental and farming management practices could be used to tackle this.  

Survey quotes

I feel it’s become apparent that natural and green spaces are imperative to physical and mental well-being. However, it has also demonstrated the challenges that exist. How do we travel to these spaces? How do we interact with them? How do we balance the needs of those visiting vs the impact of those visits? We could have a unique opportunity to change the way we do things, but that change needs to start now.

I miss the Lakes!! Cannot wait to be able to come back and enjoy the mountains again with my family. Outdoor spaces, particularly the lakes, is hugely important to my mental health – it is where I feel most comfortable and happy.

Home working and the restrictions have put a heavier reliance on accessing natural spaces for exercise and mental health, but have only strengthened my existing conviction of the need for a simple and close relationship with nature – and the desire to avoid unnecessary travel, particularly by car, and also technology when engaging with nature.

Access to green spaces has been vital for us as  key workers and with 3 children under 7 mental well being has been a top priority for us to maintain.

We should encourage more sustainable modes of transport.  The lack of traffic in the Lakes was profound in the early weeks of lockdown and enhanced my experience of the Lakes.

I’ve lived in the Lakes for 4 years and have never done as much outdoors as I have done during lockdown. Not having access really made me appreciate it. Only been able to access what was on my doorstep made me appreciate where I live. I was furloughed; I’m worried about what it will be like going back to work. I was always so tired! With the long days and commuting. I’m worried I will lose the joy I’ve had from being outdoors because of lack of time.

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