The Department of Conservation has released a report, Resilience through nature, providing a snapshot into New Zealanders’ participation with the outdoors in a COVID-19 context, with key findings relating to New Zealanders’ perceptions, attitudes and behaviours are compared to pre-COVID-19.
In line with current thinking internationally, DOC suggests nature tourism is an avenue to better wellbeing outcomes. Tangata whenua, local communities, tourism operators and organisations are key players in encouraging greater participation in the outdoors; especially for those less inclined or able to participate.
The research findings strongly set out the positive impacts on wellbeing from people connecting with others, participating in the outdoors, and connecting with nature.
The report also found that over the COVID-19 period there has been increased anxiety and uncertainty for some respondents. For some, this time has been a chance to connect with others and to get outside to explore local places while for others, the stress people were feeling reduced their participation in the outdoors.
Getting active in nature has been an effective way for many to cope with the changes imposed by COVID-19 including such activities as local walks, spending time with kids, connecting with neighbours, trying new hobbies and being present in nature.
The findings indicate an opportunity for DOC to develop and promote new ways to connect more New Zealanders with nature as a meaningful way for people to reduce feelings of anxiety while also potentially encouraging biodiversity and conservation efforts.
In the research, respondents were categorised into three groups relating to their response to change; people who embraced, juggled, or resisted change. In the COVID-19 period, those who embraced change took to the outdoors and were more proactive and optimistic in their actions and thinking. On the other hand, those who were resistant to change were more likely to avoid unfamiliar or distant places.
This indicates that a variety of mechanisms are needed to encourage those with lower comfort zone levels to engage in the outdoors.
The report highlights a number of barriers to outdoor participation, including ease of access, cost and anxiety of going to areas beyond local boundaries. Despite this, since COVID-19, there has been an increase of at home outdoor interaction through exercise, gardening, conservation efforts and recreation.
DOC highlights that there are opportunities to increase biodiversity and conservation opportunities in communities at a grass roots level. Gardening is a potential gateway for this!
Overall, the research found that interacting with nature is an important lever to increasing wellbeing and resilience amongst communities. The tourism industry can play its part in encouraging people to get out and explore nature.