• Has COVID-19 Increased the Number of Nature Lovers?

Environmental Laboratory

Has COVID-19 Increased the Number of Nature Lovers?

Feb 05 2021

The lockdown restrictions introduced across the globe to fight the spread of coronavirus pandemic have reduced many people’s exposure to other humans, at the same time as they have afforded them more free time. In a bid to boost their mental health and reconnect with the planet at the same time, many people have taken to enjoying Mother Nature as a means of escaping from the confines of their home.

While anecdotal evidence has pointed to the idea that one of the environmental implications of coronavirus has been an increase in the number of nature lovers around the world, very few scientific studies have investigated the hypothesis to date. Seeking to right that wrong, a team of researchers from the University of Vermont (UVM) in the USA have published their own paper, which found that over a quarter of those who visited national parks during lockdown were doing so for the first time in many months.

The pull of nature

While the scientific community was searching for ways to tackle the spread of coronavirus using viricidal surface decontamination and other sophisticated techniques, many people were simply concentrated on staying afloat. That applied not only to their financial situation, with unemployment levels rocketing in the USA in particular, but also to their psychological one.

Deprived of human contact, many people experienced heightened feelings of isolation, anxiety and loneliness. Being amongst nature has been linked with stress relief in the past, so it’s not surprising that unprecedented numbers of people turned to national parks, nature reserves and other green spaces to exercise, walk, meditate and find peace.

By the numbers

While major news outlets around the world reported similar upturns in the number of people resorting to nature to cope with the pandemic, there is not much in the way of scientific research corroborating those reports. That’s why Brendan Fisher and his colleagues at the UVM decided to survey people visiting 25 parks and other green spaces in and around Burlington in Vermont.

Overall, they surveyed a sample size of 400 residents who used the parks during the period in which health protocols were introduced. Over 70% of those said they had increased the time they spent in nature as a result of the pandemic, while 26% said that they had seldom or never visited parks in the 12 months preceding the outbreak of COVID-19.

The importance of green areas

The study not only provides tangible evidence to support the claim that coronavirus has increased the number of nature lovers, but also underlines how important these green spaces are to the physical and mental health of urban dwellers. As such, they must be protected against urban development and deforestation going forwards.

“Infectious disease experts predict that viruses, like those causing COVID-19, will increase in frequency in the future,” explained Nelson Grima, a postdoctoral researcher who led the study alongside Fisher. “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.”

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