The University of Derby Research Connectedness Group defines nature connectedness as a measurable psychological construct that moves beyond contact with nature to an individual’s sense of their relationship with the natural world. 

Nature connectedness captures the relationship between people and the natural world and how much individuals include nature as part of their identity.

The University of Derby Research Connectedness Group, along with partners such as, Natural England, the RSPB, National Trust, Historic England, and the Wildlife Trusts, developed a Nature Connections Indicator. The Nature Connection Indicator measures people’s connectedness to nature with a scale. 

Research using the Nature Connection Indicator revealed physical contact with nature and nature connectedness provides extra but independent benefits to wellbeing and pro-environmental behaviours. The work has also revealed the level of nature connectedness across people’s lifespan, identifying a sharp dip in teenage years.

Other researchers describe nature connectedness in different ways. Kals et al. (1999) define nature connectedness as a love of nature or an emotional affinity toward nature. Similarly, Dutcher et al. (2007) define nature connectedness as how much a person believes they are the same as nature.

As a result, nature connectedness is also known as nature relatedness, connecting with nature, emotional affinity toward nature, or inclusion of nature in the self.

Why does our relationship with nature matter?

There are two crucial reasons why nature connectedness and our work to strengthen people’s relationship with the natural world is so important; the Climate Crisis and the Mental Health Crisis.

We are in a state of a climate emergency. Within the next 2 decades, global temperatures are likely to rise 1.5 degrees celsius and more than 1 million species are at risk of extinction by climate change. The climate crisis is detrimental to human life too. From the spread of infectious diseases to increased cardiovascular stress the climate crisis is one of the greatest threats to public health globally. All this hits the health of those of a lower socioeconomic status and those living in less developed countries the hardest.

The climate crisis has a significant global impact on individuals’ mental health and well-being. Studies indicate that climate events such as floods, droughts, tornados, earthquakes, and fires not only exacerbate chronic mental illness, but also impact well-being causing anxiety, stress, and in the worst case, suicide. The World Health Organisation estimates that 12.6 million preventable deaths per year can be attributed to environmental factors, all of which are exacerbated by climate change, and an additional 250,000 deaths per year are projected between 2030 and 2050.

It is not possible to have healthy people on a sick planet. The health of the people and the planet are interrelated.

At the root of this crisis is how we have become disconnected from nature. Today, our entire socio-economic system is designed from a dominant worldview of ecological disconnection. It is an outlook that we are somehow different and separate from nature, but also in control of it. We have come to believe that the natural world exists only to serve human needs.

There is also a wealth of research that illustrates how disconnection from nature is linked to mental and physical illness, from anxiety, depression and poor body image in women, to heart disease, fatigue and lowered life expectancy to name but a few. 

Nature-deficit disorder is having a real impact on children’s emotional, social and physical development.

On top of this, researchers have noticed a growing trend over the past 20 years: a decline in human social connectedness. As a result of a lack of social networks and community engagement opportunities, there are many people around the world who are considered isolated and socially vulnerable. These include people in poor health, people with disabilities, people living alone, people with transient lifestyles, and many more. Loneliness, living alone and poor social connections are as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and increases the risk of death by a staggering 26%.

Being isolated from others can have tragic consequences relating to the climate crisis. In the 2003 Paris heat wave, 919 people died in their home – seven times higher than the previous year’s heat wave, with 92% of the victims having lived alone with little social or community connection.

It is clear our poor relationship with nature and each other has caused untold damage to the planet and ourselves. Recognising the interrelation between the climate emergency and public health means addressing the climate crisis is one of the best ways to improve public health.

To fix it we need a new more connected relationship that recognises that we are part of nature. 

The University of Derby Nature Connectedness Research Group developed 5 pathways to nature connectedness to provide a route for people to develop a new relationship with the natural world. This new relationship with nature can move beyond utility and control, beyond knowledge and identification and move closer to a new, healthier and more sustainable relationship with nature. The pathways are:

  1. Senses – tuning in to nature through the senses
  2. Emotion – feeling alive through the emotions and feelings nature brings
  3. Beauty – noticing nature’s beauty
  4. Meaning – nature bringing meaning to our lives
  5. Compassion – caring and taking action for nature

Research shows that people who are more connected with nature are usually happier in life and more likely to report feeling their lives are worthwhile. Nature can generate a multitude of positive emotions, such as calmness, joy, creativity and can facilitate concentration.

Nature connectedness is also associated with lower levels of poor mental health; in particular lower depression and anxiety levels.

That is why the 5 Pathways to Nature Connection is the core of our training framework. Our Guides and Practitioners support and deepen peoples’ connection to nature. Together we can be part of the solution for green mental health care and empowering people to take action for our planet. 


Holwerda, T.J., van Tilburg, T.G., Deeg, D.J., Schutter, N., Van, R., Dekker, J., Stek, M.L., Beekman, A.T. and Schoevers, R.A., 2016. Impact of loneliness and depression on mortality: results from the Longitudinal Ageing Study Amsterdam. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 209(2), pp.127-134.

Kals, E., Schumacher, D., & Montada, L. (1999). “Emotional affinity toward nature as a motivational basis to protect nature”. Environment and Behavior, 31, 178-202. doi:10.1177/00139169921972056

Kals, E., Schumacher, D., & Montada, L. (1999). “Emotional affinity toward nature as a motivational basis to protect nature”. Environment and Behavior, 31, 178-202. doi:10.1177/00139169921972056

Mental Health Foundation,

National Institute of Environmental Health Science in a review from 2009.

Policy brief on climate change and mental health/well-being, 2020,

Rewilding Britain, People’s Place in Nature,

Social Isolation: A Modern Plague,

United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Sixth Report 2021

University of Derby Research Connectedness Group