Analysing the relationship between millennials’ perceptions of the natural environment and the conservation of natural spaces

Sam Dawson

My name is Sam Dawson and I am studying a Bachelor of Science degree in Countryside Management at Harper Adams University. For my Honours Research Project (HRP) I am researching the potential disengagement of 18-30 year-olds (termed Millennials or Generation Y) in access to natural spaces and the possible implications for the conservation of natural spaces.

Climate change is a very topical issue that affects many aspects of our lives. Yet, there appears to be a disconnection between our daily lives, ecosystems and the natural spaces upon which we depend. My HRP research seeks to analyse the relationship between Millennials’ perceptions of natural spaces and their conservation. My aim is to investigate this topic to inform the conservation of natural spaces for future generations. David Attenborough is credited with saying: “No one will protect what they don’t care about, and no one will care about what they have never experienced.” (Goodreads, not dated).

The defining feature of the Millennial generation is the advent of the internet. According to Weiler et al. (2018), generational identity relating to social and topical issues is implicitly connected to experiences that age cohorts have over the course of their lives. My HRP, therefore, seeks to identify where this impacts access to nature and how it determines Millennials’ responses to climate-related issues.

There are fundamental questions that are posed as part of the research:

What is the role of technological development in access to natural spaces?

What is the role in childhood activity in perceptions of natural space?

What are the potential accessibility issues that 18-30s may face in accessing natural spaces? Should the research find that barriers exist, why do they exist and how can they be addressed?

According to Natural England (2019)  adults accessing natural spaces increased from 2.9 billion in the period 2009/10 to 4 billion annual visits in 2018/19.  Thus, this research seeks to identify the reason for this surge, along with any related factors. What have conservationists done right in the intervening period that has caused an increase in access to natural spaces? What could be done better to improve access to natural spaces and awareness of climate-related issues in future generations.

The Rhinogs, Mid Wales

Weiler et al. (2018) also stated that national parks are essential focus points for the impact of environmental stressors caused through anthropogenic societal development. The study stated that national parks are currently dependent upon government funding. However, with increasing threats to natural spaces, visitor numbers affect the perceptions of the success of natural spaces. Without adequate visitor numbers natural spaces could lose their protections and the species that depend upon associated natural spaces. Visitor numbers is the measure by which success is determined.

Underlying concerns of protecting national conservation designations are that generation Y among others, are less likely to spend time outdoors and are subject to feelings of disconnection with nature. If this is the case, what risk does this pose to environmental designations and the protection of our natural spaces, ecosystems and the global environment?

There is a current lack of clarity around the topic of Gen-Y access to natural space; therefore, this project seeks to provide further clarification of the issues and address potential gaps in the research.

Therefore, if you are aged 18-30, please consider completing this questionnaire that can be accessed by the following link: https://harper-adams.onlinesurveys.ac.uk/barriers-young-people-face-when-accessing-natural-spaces

The questionnaire is entirely anonymous, and will take no longer than 10 minutes to complete. The survey will close by the 16th of February 2021. Your participation will be valued.

Sam Dawson is a BSc (Hons) student in his final year studying a Countryside Management degree at Harper Adams University. His interests in environmental psychology and social/environmental sciences drive his passion for conservation and understanding of the natural world.

References

Goodreads. Not dated. David Attenborough quotes. [Online] Available from: https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/3243300-no-one-will-protect-what-they-don-t-care-about-and [Accessed 11 November 2020]

Natural England, 2019. Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment: Headline report and technical reports 2018 to 2019. [Online] Available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/monitor-of-engagement-with-the-natural-environment-headline-report-and-technical-reports-2018-to-2019 [Accessed 20 October 2020]  

Weiler, B. Martin, V.Y. Canosa, A. Cutter-Mackenzie, A. (2018) Generation Y and protected areas: a scoping study of research, theory and future directions. Journal of Leisure Research. 49:3-5, 277-297.

 

Photo: Martin Hodson