Loss of connection to nature matters

Soga, M., Gaston, K.J., Koyanagi, T.F., Kurisu, K. & Hanaki, K. 2016. Urban residents’ perceptions of neighbourhood nature: does the extinction of experience matter? Biological Conservation 203, 143-150.shutterstock_151363640 [Image from Shutterstock]

Today’s children have less direct contact with nature than ever before, resulting in an “extinction of experience”. Research has suggested that such loss of daily interactions decreases people’s appreciation of the natural world, but this remains quantitatively unexplored. We conducted a questionnaire survey of undergraduate university students in Tokyo, Japan, and determined the effects of frequency of contact with nature on emotional connect- edness to nature and perceptions of neighbourhood nature. A total of 255 students participated in the surveys. Students’ perceptions of neighbourhood nature were measured by to what extent they valued cultural ecosystem services derived from neighbourhood natural environments, birds and butterflies. Results showed that students valued neighbourhood natural environments, birds and butterflies for many different reasons, such as relaxation, beauty of natural scenes, an indicator of seasonality, and opportunities for education. Linear mixed models revealed that both current and childhood frequencies of contact with nature were positively related not only to students’ emotional connectedness to nature but also their perceptions of neighbourhood nature. Students’ emotional connection to nature and perceptions of neighbourhood nature were positively associated with each other. Our results suggest that, given the rapid decrease in children’s daily contact with nature, public appreciation of the value of the natural world is likely gradually also to decrease. This can be a major obstacle to reversing global environmental challenges. People should therefore be encouraged to experience neighbourhood natural environments and biodiversity, and city planners and policy makers will play a vital role in connecting people with nature.