Restorative (Aquatic) Environments: Antecedents and Implications

L.R. Elliot; K.J. Wyles (chair); K. Walker-Springett; M.P. White. Location: A12

Symposium: Restorative (Aquatic) Environments: Antecedents and Implications

Organiser: K. J. Wyles

The natural environment is a fundamental resource with respect to enhancing human health and well-being. Research that examines the restorative qualities of nature often reports that the benefits are not equal across different contexts. The aim of this symposium is to explore what actually influences restorative experiences of nature and outlines the implications of these key factors. Using a mixture of designs (e.g. laboratory, field and retrospective studies) and both quantitative and qualitative methods, the researchers cover a range of topics. The session starts by comparing types of environment and focuses on physical activity, utilising a national dataset to explore how different types of nature encourage different levels of energy expenditure. The session moves on to examine more explicit restoration measures between environments, detecting mechanisms that can explain the beneficial effects of terrestrial but not necessarily aquatic environments. The third presentation reports on work that disentangles the benefits and values associated with aquatic environments, for example aesthetics and land management, in the context of flood risk. Finally, the importance of wildlife for restoration was then examined when biodiversity and charismatic behaviour are manipulated. The session will then conclude with an open panel discussion.

Energy expenditure on recreational visits to different natural environments: Implications for public health

L. R. Elliott, M. P. White, S. Herbert, & A. H. Taylor

Physical inactivity jeopardises physical and mental health. Environmental approaches to tackle inactivity have identified natural environments as potentially important public health resources. Despite this, little is known about characteristics of the activity involved when individuals visit different types of natural environment. Using Natural England’s Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment Survey, we examined 71,603 English adults’ recreational visits to natural environments. Specifically, we examined the intensity of the activities they undertook on the visits, the duration of their visit, and the associated total energy expenditure. Visits to countryside and urban greenspaces were associated with more intense activities than visits to coastal environments. However, visits to coastal environments were associated with the most energy expenditure overall due to their relatively long duration, potentially contributing to greater restoration. Results differed by the urbanity or rurality of the respondent’s residence and also how far respondents travelled to their destination. Knowledge of which environments afford the highest volumes and intensities of physical activity may inform tailored physical activity promotion efforts in the future. Isolating salutogenic characteristics of environments that can be translated into urban design is important in providing physical activity opportunities for those less able to access expansive environments.

Restorative Visits: The Role of Connectedness to Nature and Quality & Type of Environment Visited

K. J. Wyles, M. White, M. Austen, C. Hattam, S. Pahl, & S. Herbert

The growing importance of experiencing natural environments on well-being has received great attention. Although studies have examined the influence of connectedness to nature on well-being, no one has examined whether this differs according to the type (i.e. urban-green, rural-green, & coastal) and quality (i.e. whether the site has a protected designation) of the environment visited. A national English sample (n = 5,234) asked to recall experiences of a visit to nature felt more connected to nature when visiting rural-green or coastal environments, and when visiting designated sites. Designated sites on the coast were found to be especially beneficial. In additional detailed analysis of visits, demographic and visit characteristics were also found to have an influence, e.g. connectedness to nature was higher after spending more than 30 minutes in the environment. In relation to well-being, individuals reporting greater connectedness to nature also experienced greater restoration (feeling refreshed & revitalised, and calm & relaxed). Connectedness was a key mechanism for why rural-green environments were beneficial for restoration, but only partially explained the effects for coastal environments. This further develops our understanding of the restorative qualities of nature, highlighting that the mechanisms at play may not be universal across environment types.

Changing attitudes towards rivers; implications of climate change risk on river conservation

K. Walker-Springett, C. Butler, & L. Whitmarsh

Rivers are valued landscape elements, for ecological reason and for relaxation and recreation by the public.  How climate change impacts that adversely affect human health and well-being could alter attitudes towards the environment has not been well established, with serious consequences for human-nature interactions. This study allows a first glimpse at whether a major flood event would change attitudes and perceptions of rivers.  In 2012/13 a series of focus groups (participant n = 11) and a questionnaire (participant n = 548) were undertaken to investigate attitudes towards rivers and opinions of climate change risk.  In 2014/15 a series of semi-structured repeat interviews (n= 66) were carried out in Somerset, UK; an area badly affected by major flooding in the winter of 2013/14. Results showed that rivers were valued, irrespective of flood experience, with actions during the response and recovery phase following flooding found to drive perceptions of river management strategies as opposed to the value of rivers in general.  Drawing evidence from both studies, we begin to see the importance of aesthetics and region-specific land management choices in attitudes towards rivers, providing a basis for future management plans to adapt to and fully engage with such societal expectations of riverscapes.

Wildlife as an important component of restorative environments: The role of (perceived) biodiversity and behaviour

M. P. White, A. Weeks, T. Hooper, D. Cracknell, & R. Lovell

A growing body of work suggests that exposure to natural environments is associated with a range of emotional and cognitive, restorative benefits. The current research explores the potential role of wildlife encounters in this process using a large on-line experiment (N = 1,478). Participants viewed a range of photographs and videos of coastal scenes showing different levels of avian and mammalian species richness and abundance (i.e. biodiversity) and instances of both ‘charismatic’ (e.g. flocking) and ‘non-charismatic’ (e.g. sleeping) behaviour. Participants were asked to imagine themselves in each location and rate: a) how they think they would feel (in terms of valence and arousal); b) the degree to which they think being there would help them restore from cognitive fatigue; and c) their willingness to visit the location. Supporting earlier urban-park based studies, perceived bird and mammal abundance in coastal scenes was positively associated with all indices of perceived restoration. Moreover, scenes containing ‘charismatic’ behaviour were rated more positively on all indices than scenes with ‘non-charismatic’ behaviour, even for the same species. The findings suggest that wildlife behaviour may be just as important as wildlife variety for restorative outcomes.