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Environmental Spaces and the Feel-Good Factor: Relating Subjective Wellbeing to Biodiversity

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - RELATE (Environmental Spaces and the Feel-Good Factor: Relating Subjective Wellbeing to Biodiversity)

Reporting period: 2019-04-01 to 2020-09-30

The purpose of RELATE is to initiate a step-change in our understanding of how nature underpins human wellbeing in a time of profound environmental change. Global phenomena, such as urbanisation, agricultural intensification and biotic homogenisation, have led to extensive ecosystem degradation and species extinctions, and, as a result, a reduction in biodiversity. Yet, while it is now widely asserted in the research, policy and practice arenas that interacting with nature is fundamental to human wellbeing, there is a worrying paucity of nuanced evidence characterising how the living components of nature, biodiversity, play a role in this accepted truth. With RELATE, I will pioneer and establish a completely new approach to investigating this challenging and important problem, innovating within this genuinely interdisciplinary space to embed ecology at the heart of the human geography, environmental psychology and economics methodologies commonly used to assess human-nature relationships. During RELATE, I will pose and answer two questions: (1) What biodiversity attributes (i.e. particular morphologies, sounds, smells, textures, behaviours and/or cultural meanings associated with species) do people relate to and value, both positively and negatively, and how are these associated with different classes of cultural ecosystem service and types of human-nature experience? (2) How do human-biodiversity relationships vary across spatial and temporal scales and what are the likely implications for cultural ecosystem service and subjective wellbeing delivery?
Substantial progress has been made towards meeting the objectives of the grant. During the first 30 months the project has produced 13 peer-reviewed journal papers. These are either accepted, in review/revision, or in preparation for peer-review, including in high-impact, multidisciplinary journals such as Nature Sustainability, Nature Ecology and Evolution, Environment International, Environmental Research Letters. Additionally, an edited volume (Cambridge University Press) and peer-reviewed book chapter (Springer) have been published. The research team has also organised a two successful conferences (each one reaching a maximum delegate capacity of 150 and 250 people from the policy, practice and academic communities), given keynote or invited seminar presentations, and have participated/organised a diverse variety of public engagement activities. For example, the team have designed an ‘ideal woodland’ game for the public attending Glastonbury music festival, co-organised and run Soapbox Science in Canterbury to promote women in STEM research (2018 and 2019), and given public lectures. Additionally, a number of applications for further funding have been developed by the project team, inspired by RELATE research. These include two PhD student scholarships and applications to UKRI grant calls.

Objective 1: explored how people relate to different biodiversity attributes, both positively and negatively, across all classes of cultural ecosystem services and types of human-nature experience. This objective has been tackled through two systematic reviews and four weekend-long deliberative participatory workshops which have generated a particularly extensive and rich dataset. The quantitative and qualitative data offer an interpretative account of the diverse ways people relate to, experience and culturally construct biodiversity attributes in the context of their wellbeing. The complete dataset comprises around 140 hours of transcript material from approximately 200 participants.

Objective 2: quantifies variation in how people value different biodiversity attributes using a range of monetary and non-monetary valuation techniques. The analytical processes for the non-monetary elements is now almost complete and ready to be written up into a top-quality peer-reviewed journal paper. Moreover, there has been considerable interest in this objective from across the policy and practice communities, from both conservation and health perspectives. The monetary component is ongoing.

Objective 3: understands how co-occurrence between biodiversity and people may change across space and time, and the impact this may have on human-biodiversity relationships. This represents the bulk of the research to be conducted in the latter stages of RELATE.
RELATE is carrying out research that is beyond the state of the art for each objective. The project is proceeding in a timely manner, and we expect results to be available before project end.