A new U.K. study suggests nature is a natural facilitator for better social and community interactions.
Moreover, contact with nature appears to reduce crime rates on a level comparable to other well-known social-ecological variables, suggesting that policies to improve green space may enhance community safety.
In the study, researchers sought to provide objective evidence on the social consequences of experiences with nature. An international, interdisciplinary team used nationally representative data from the United Kingdom to examine the relationships between objective measures and self-reported assessments of contact with nature, community cohesion, and local crime incidence.
Their findings appear in the journal BioScience.
Netta Weinstein, Ph.D., of Cardiff University, and others discovered people’s experiences of local nature reported via a survey could explain eight percent of the variation in survey responses about perceptions of community cohesion. This finding came after accounting for a variety of factors, including socioeconomic deprivation, population density, unemployment rate, socioeconomic standing, and weekly wages.
They describe this as “a striking finding given that individual predictors such as income, gender, age, and education together accounted for only three percent” of the variance.
The relationship with crime was similarly striking. According to the study results, objective measures of the amount of green space or farmland accessible in people’s neighborhoods accounted for four percent of additional variance in crime rates.
The authors argue that this predictive power compares favorably with known contributors to crime, such as socioeconomic deprivation, which accounts for five percent variance in crime rates.
“The positive impact of local nature on neighbors’ mutual support may discourage crime, even in areas lower in socioeconomic factors,” they write. Further, given the political importance placed on past crime reductions as small as two to three percent, the authors suggest that findings such as theirs could justify policies aimed at ameliorating crime by improving contact with nature.
Finally, the authors note that, unlike some easily measured ecosystem services (e.g., the provision of water or food), “the apparent benefits of contact with nature on social cohesion… are more challenging to tease apart and measure.”
However, they express the hope that their study “stimulates consideration of how best to ensure that nature, at many different levels, can continue to benefit individuals and society into the future.”