< News

Reflections on student perceptions of nature and action within education

October 11, 2023
Fiona Day - The Mammal Society

Understanding the perspectives of students is paramount; they are the future stewards of our planet. Their views on nature and conservation efforts provide valuable insights into the current state of conservation and offer a glimpse into future efforts.  

One of the most encouraging findings from new research with students on their experiences of nature is that a staggering 88% of respondents feel that they can have fun and enjoy themselves in nature. This statistic underscores the genuine appreciation students have for the natural world, where many find solace, inspiration, and joy.  

However, despite this appreciation, only 1% of respondents actively engage in conservation activities. This stark contrast suggests that while students recognize the value of nature, there is a significant gap between their appreciation and taking tangible steps to protect it. As a conservation NGO, this raises the question - how we can bridge this divide and turn appreciation into meaningful action?

The 2023 State of Nature Report serves as a harsh reminder of the persistent environmental challenges we face. Over time, as generations pass, our perception of what is considered "normal" in terms biodiversity is declining. Each generation accepts a slightly diminished state of nature as the new norm, leading to a gradual decline in our expectations for the natural world.

The State of Nature report, produced by a partnership of over 60 conservation NGOs, research institutes and statutory nature bodies, highlights the continued decline in biodiversity, loss of critical habitats, and alarming rates of species extinction. These findings should serve as a wake-up call, emphasizing the interconnectedness of all life on Earth and the direct impact of human activities on our natural world.  

They reinforce the importance of conservation, sustainable resource management, and climate action. We must take immediate and decisive action to reverse these trends and foster greater engagement with nature.  

Access to nature is not equitable for everyone. Many students face barriers that prevent them from immersing themselves in natural environments. The SOS-UK report found that 19% of respondents don't have a convenient way to access nature near them.

Addressing these obstacles is essential. We must ensure that nature is accessible to all, regardless of their location or circumstances. How can we expect students to protect and restore nature if they are prevented from even experiencing it?

Imagine the potential impact if we can remove these barriers and make nature accessible to every student. It could lead to a generation of passionate conservationists who have a personal connection to the natural world and are inspired to protect it.

An overwhelming 86% of respondents believe that all universities and colleges should take action to protect and support nature on their grounds or other lands they own. This resounding endorsement highlights the pivotal role educational institutions could play in conservation.  

Universities are not just places of learning; they are hubs of influence and innovation. They have a responsibility to lead by example in environmental stewardship. They can serve as levellers; providing opportunities to engage with nature that young people may not have had before.  

Moreover, 64% of respondents feel that their university or college should provide opportunities for students to experience nature. This desire for more exposure to the natural world reflects an eagerness to connect with nature. It's a call to action for universities to integrate nature into their curriculum, campus design, and extracurricular activities.

By taking proactive steps to incorporate nature into university life, institutions can create a more inclusive and accessible environment for all students. Nature becomes not just a distant concept but a tangible part of their daily lives. This, in turn, can lead to a profound shift in perspective and a greater commitment to conservation.

At the Mammal Society we see these statistics as a call to action too. A remarkable 52% of respondents want to know more about how they can access nature at their university or college.

We must bridge this gap.  

From the SOS-UK data we know that they students who can access nature are seeing the benefits – one of the top reasons for visiting nature being for mental health and wellbeing. We strive to work with universities and students to foster their love of nature and promote active conservation involvement.  

As Matt Larsen-Daw (CEO, Mammal Society) says

“Students are discovering – in some cases depending on – the restorative qualities of time in nature. If nature organisations and universities can collaborate to involve students in actions to monitor and enhance wildlife on their campus they will have new opportunities to access these mental health benefits, but also play a role in ensuring that nature can continue to offer the benefits to them and others for the future. Conservation action can be especially positive for mental health, providing the added sense of agency and achievement by helping protect and restore wildlife in the face of a worrying decline, and offering a richer and more immersive experience of the natural world.”

Working with universities, students, and communities, we can create opportunities for meaningful engagement with nature. We must remove barriers to access, inspire and empower the next generation of conservationists, and support educational institutions in their journey toward becoming centres of sustainability and environmental awareness.

It is time to act. We can turn our love for the natural world into a force for positive change.

Get involved

Track your mammal sightings: We’d love to see some more mammal sightings from university campuses logged on our Mammal Mapper app.  

Set up a mammal group at your university: We encourage students and universities to collaborate with us in setting up your own mammal groups on campuses across the British Isles.  

By establishing these groups, you'll have the opportunity to participate in recording and monitoring mammal populations right on your campus. You'll be contributing to vital research and conservation efforts while also connecting with like-minded individuals who share your passion.

To get started or learn more, please reach out to us today and contact our Education and Training Officer, Fiona (fiona@mammal.org.uk).  

Read the full research report or find out more about SOS-UK's nature projects including Farming for Carbon and Nature and Hedgehog Friendly Campus.