Urban Biodiversity and the feel-good factor

Urban Biodiversity and the feel-good factor

Urban Biodiversity and the feel-good factor

Visitors to urban green spaces in Sheffield feel better in areas they perceive to have greater biodiversity.

A recent study, carried out as part of the University of Sheffield´s Urban River Corridors and Sustainable Living Agenda (URSULA) project, examines how people´s feelings of well-being are related to both the numbers of species they think are present at a site, and to the actual number present.

By carrying out s in parks, woodlands and on footpaths, along rivers in the city, researchers from the Department of Animal and Plant Sciences investigated the relationships between measures of psychological well-being of visitors to the sites and the perceived biodiversity of birds, butterflies and plants there. They also surveyed the actual number of species of each group at the same sites.

The results showed that people experienced increased well-being at locations where they thought there were more species. When it came to actual biodiversity, however, only in the case of birds was there any positive effect and there was no relationship between what people thought the biodiversity was at a site and the actual biodiversity recorded in the surveys.

Lead author Martin Dallimer said: "One possible explanation is that people may need to have good wildlife identification skills to know how many species are present in a green space. We found that members of the public who could correctly recognise pictures of wildlife commonly found along the rivers of Sheffield were more able to estimate the actual number of species occurring on a site."

The research, which was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), investigated how management of regeneration along urban rivers could maximise benefits to communities.

Zoe Davies, now of the University of Kent, added: "Now that over half the world´s population live in towns and cities, urban green spaces have an increasingly important role to play in improving people´s quality of life. Indeed, these are the only places that many city-dwellers will encounter wildlife on a regular basis."

Researchers also believe educating the public to recognise plant and animal species could lead to better conservation.

Katherine Irvine of De Montfort University, Leicester, who was a co-author of the article, added: "Greater attention needs to be paid to providing both access to nature and also to developing people´s awareness of, and ability to recognise elements of the wildlife that surrounds them. Such action will help maximize the benefits of urban green spaces for both biodiversity and human psychological well-being."

Martin Dallimer et al (2012), 'Biodiversity and the feel-good factor: Understanding associations between self-reported human well-being and species richness', is published in BioScience this month.