Can birds make us happy?
Nature is valuable in lots of ways. Sometimes it's valuable by hard-edged criteria like how much money we save on defending our cities from floods - and clearing up afterwards when our defences fail - because natural wetlands absorb and slow down water, preventing floods in the first place. Or how many people don't get ill because the air pollution that could cause them breathing problems instead gets absorbed by vegetation.
Other times it's valuable in ways that are a lot trickier to quantify. People like to walk in natural environments, to go camping or just to look at wild plants and animals. It makes them happy. But how happy, and how much is that happiness worth to them?
That's what a Natalie Clark, a PhD student at the University of Reading, is trying to find out. 'Most of us say we enjoy seeing wild birds in our local environments every day be that the friendly robin visiting our garden each Christmas or ducks swimming in the local pond,' she says. 'But we have little idea of how much we value their presence and how they're contributing to our overall well-being.'
She's sent out questionnaires to people all over the UK, designed to find out how often they visit green spaces and why, as well as how different levels of bird activity around their homes affects their general wellbeing.
'We're really interested in the reasons why people visit green spaces and how important different aspects of wildlife, particularly birds, are to their outdoor experiences,' she adds. If there's a significant benefit to our wellbeing from avian wildlife, that benefit is under serious threat; numbers of many wild bird species have declined precipitously in recent decades.
Clark's giving a preliminary talk about her work at the British Ecological Survey's annual meeting at the University of Birmingham. She hopes her results will published at some point in Spring - we'll have the details as soon as we get them. The work is funded by NERC with extra support from the RSPB. Also carrying out the study are researchers from the University of East Anglia, the RSPB and the University of Chicago.
Posted on 18 December 2012
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