New research published in the journal Environment International finds that people living in urban areas who spend less time in nature are also less likely to take greener actions such as recycling and environmental volunteering.

The findings involved analysing responses from 24,000 people in England and was undertaken by researchers from the Universities of Exeter and Plymouth in partnership with Public Health England and The Met Office. It looked at people’s exposure to nature in their local area; their recreational visits to natural environments such as parks and woodlands; and the extent to which they valued the natural world.

Results reveal that green choices were more common in people who lived in greener neighbourhoods and among those who regularly visited natural spaces – regardless of where they lived. The relationships were the same across all ages and all sectors of society.

Lead author Dr Ian Alcock said:

"Over 80% of the English population now live in urban areas and are increasingly detached from the natural world. Greening our cities is often proposed to help us adapt to climate change – for example, city parks and trees can reduce urban heat spots. But our results suggest urban greening could help reduce the damaging behaviours which cause environmental problems in the first place by reconnecting people to the natural word."

Co-researcher Dr Mathew White said:

"The results are correlational so there is always the issue of untangling cause and effect, but findings are based on a very large representative sample and are consistent with experimental work showing people become more pro-environmental after time spent in natural settings."

Given the impact of lifestyle choices on carbon emissions, the results imply a benign circle in which urban greenspaces may also contribute to mitigation by helping urban individuals reconnect with the natural world and adopt more pro-environmental lifestyles.