People and nature: From nature recreation to ecologial citizenship

Green and biodiversity are crucial for health, well-being and quality of life of people. This is particular relevant for people living in cities or in densely populated areas around the world, for whom the presence of nearby nature is not self-evident. Some researchers warn for the "extinction of experience", arguing that due to the loss of interaction with nature, interpreted as outdoor activities in nature, positive attitudes towards nature protection, emotions and nature friendly behaviour will decline. Consequently, nature policy and management need to stimulate and work with ideas around ecological citizenship. These issues inspire me to develop the following research themes.

Nature recreation, managament and conflicts. Recreation in nature areas is the basis of all engagement. People, however, experience nature and behave differently. Different recreational groups might conflict with each other. Increasing visitor numbers might cause problems with the protection of vulnerable areas. Emotional bonding with the area might cause protest against nature management measures. Recreation management needs to address these issues, but opposing views and interests might obstruct possible solutions. Sometimes specific thesis topics are available.

Public engagement with nature. Over the last decades, conservationists increasingly realise that for the long-term conservation of nature and biodiversity, citizens need not only support nature conservation and management, but also be actively involved (link to project Historical analysis of public engagement with nature). Engagement is about volunteering in management, citizen science, and decision-making. One particular form of engagement is ‘green self-governance’, governance through which citizens play a major role in realizing, protecting and/or managing green space. Although many see a trend towards more citizen engagement in green space governance, there are still many questions: how many people are engaged and what is the nature of this engagement, what withholds or motivates people to be engaged, what are the benefits for both nature and society, what is the long-term perspective of citizen engagement and how democratic are different forms of engagement? Sometimes specific thesis topics are available.

Nature education and children. Children have less and less direct contact with nature. Urbanization, entertainment through screens, busy agendas and over-worried parents contribute to this development. As pro-environmental behaviour is often traced back to memorable childhood experiences in nature, one may wonder what will happen if children lack nature experiences. To reconnect children with nature, new green playing areas (play forests, wilderness play grounds) and programmes (green (after-school) child care, nature activities such as OERRR) are being developed. Research into the effects of these interventions, the children being reached, the relation to future stewardship, etc. is desirable. Sometimes specific thesis topics are available.

Biocultural diversity management. What nature means to people varies; people value nature for e.g. relaxation and stress releave, feeling at home, collecting food and for spiritual reasons (more info see Spiritual values and forest management). There is a variety of biocultural values that needs to be acknowledged while planning and managing natural areas. This becomes even more important in urban societies (more info see Nature in Cities). Cities always have always had a very divers population with variegated lifestyles and daily routines. This is especially relevant in societies where the biocultural values of the original inhabitants do not coincide with the values of the European settlers who have inhabited the area. But also more recently the inflow of migrants  from all over the world in Europe diversifies urban societies strongly. At the same time, urban people participate more and more in the planning and management of urban green space. This causes a variety of needs and demands, that are sometimes contradictory. This theme is aimed at researching issues and conflicts regarding the management and governance of biocultural diversity. Sometimes specific thesis topics are available.