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Communities have no power....

Written by Lorna Fox, Chair of the GLNP Naturally Healthy Group and Head of Learning and Engagement at Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust

There is a myth that communities have no power so therefore,

- What does an empowered community for nature look like? And what does this mean for each of our organisations?

- How do we weigh up what we’re trying to achieve?

- Is it all about volunteering?

- Are we limiting young people?

- What does this mean for schools and other community institutions?

There are also a number of common misconceptions with behaviour change which need to be considered:

o Behaviour change is obvious; it needs little or no serious thought, so we should just let people get on with it and do it. In reality there are many barriers to changing behaviour that even the most well-intentioned people don’t behave the way they’d like to; we need to consider these barriers carefully.

o Just packaging the message correctly will change behaviour. If we could only get the message out there in some form which people could understand and identify with they would change in response.

o If we tell people the negative consequences of behaving they will change their behaviour accordingly. Giving people information does not make them change. It’s more often that people have many other things in their way of behaving in the desired way.

o People act by rationally and logically weighing up the evidence and then act in a straightforward and sensible way. Even when people are armed with this information behaviour change can be difficult. People don’t always weigh up decisions but may act altruistically for family members, out of fun, jealousy, compassion or anger, and habits get in the way. Sometimes we act automatically without really thinking.

o People don’t act rationally either. We can’t assume that people act unsafely or what we might deem incorrectly because they are behaving irrationally, stupidly or thoughtlessly. People’s motivations vary.

The behaviour of individuals, groups, businesses, government and society as a whole needs to be considered in order to create a societal tipping point to make nature’s recovery a priority for all and to drive our audiences to take action for nature.

For individuals, it’s about their attitudes, emotions, skills, knowledge and habits, but is also about the wider social networks and this is where what others are doing, what others think and what society says is ‘normal’ plays a huge influence. The other aspect influencing behaviour is physical being time, money, location, access and owning the ‘right’ things. All these aspects need to be taken into account in order to change behaviour.

We are so interconnected with nature and wildlife and yet we could not seem more removed from it. Subsequent generations are being denied opportunities to experience and appreciate nature, with those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds often the most excluded.[1] Across the board, three quarters of parents are concerned that children don’t spend enough time interacting with nature and wildlife.[2] We know the power of people connecting with nature and the beneficial impacts that this can have on individual health and wellbeing.[3] This connection can create a virtuous circle, leading to greater willingness to act in support of wildlife and helping us to achieve our goal of nature’s recovery – for everyone’s sake.

We need to focus on embedding opportunities for more people to get closer to nature in their everyday lives. Community Empowerment methods can provide these opportunities helping to fuel and sustain pro-environmental behaviours fostering a sense of ownership within one’s own community and providing moments for experiencing nature connectedness. This in turn will create more opportunities for exposure to the emotions and attitudes that will lead to behaviour change. Coupling these actions with a network of like-minded peers will provide the wider social context required to encourage behaviour change.

Across Gloucestershire there are thousands of committed members and volunteers dedicating their time and effort to protecting our wildlife and wild places. Every day we work with farmers, landowners and business people who share our passion, our values, and our determination to save the natural world. However, while 89% of the population say they are concerned about damage to the environment,[4] the issue fares badly up against the NHS, immigration or crime, with just 7% of the population putting the environment amongst the most important issues facing Britain. It appears that this only rises up the agenda in response to events such as severe flooding close to home.[5] We must find a way of breaking through into the public consciousness and ensuring that the state of nature is seen to be as important to our survival as the state of the National Health Service.

Of course we want everyone to be on board but, as with any pivotal social movement, we know that it’s a matter of momentum. Those that are already with us will be essential in tipping the balance. History has proven that a committed minority can change wider public attitudes and behaviour and be the catalyst for change. In the wake of Blue Planet 2, we have seen the ripple effect across Britain and beyond. It has led to a tangible shift in public discourse about plastics, a swell in individual action and pressure on Government to tackle this problem. Of course, reaching this positive tipping point is more complex and multi-faceted than the ‘Blue Planet effect’ alone (as is the challenge of achieving a solution). It is, however, undeniable that this issue has gained traction with the public and policy makers alike and this momentum looks set to create a path to real change in our future relationship with plastics. Research suggests that 25% of the population need to be behind any large-scale social change.[6]

We already know that around a third of the population are ‘wildlife enthusiasts’[7] and share our love and concern for nature, so this level of support is not beyond our reach. Locally, we will need 1 in 4 people to join us in creating a wilder future. Nature doesn’t have a voice, but we do. We need people from all walks of life to be talking about the importance of wildlife and our natural world to both create a pro-environmental movement but also to support inclusivity and access to nature for all[8]. We need people to be demonstrating to those in power that there is an appetite and urgency to create a better deal for nature. We also need people to be taking whatever action they can, on their own or collectively, to help create a wilder Gloucestershire.

[1] Natural England, Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment pilot study: visits to the natural environment by children, 2016 [2] Wildlife Trusts, Every Child Wild: Making Nature Part of Growing Up, 2015 [3] Richardson, M et al. 30 Days Wild: Development and Evaluation of a Large-Scale Nature Engagement Campaign to Improve Well-Being, 2016 [4] Natural England, Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment,2018. [5] Ipsos Mori, Issues index, 2018 [6] Centola, D et al Experimental evidence for tipping points in social convention, 2018 [7] Wildlife Trusts’ market research [8] Inclusivity support -

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