Are protected areas effective in conserving human connection with nature and enhancing pro-environmental behaviours?

Abstract : Halting the ongoing biodiversity crisis requires large individual behavioural changes through the implementation of more pro-environmental behaviours (PEBs) by every citizen. People's experiences of nature, such as outdoor activities, have been identified as great enhancers of such behaviours. Yet, these experiences of nature got scarcer in the last decades, due to an increased spatial segregation between human and nature, particularly in societies that follow a Western way of life. In this context, we wondered if protected areas (PAs), because they offer more opportunities for people to be in contact with natural landscapes and offer more ecological information and governance than other places, could enlarge the implementation of PEBs for people living in or close from them. We addressed this question by modelling the link between three types of PEBs in Metropolitan France (i.e., voting for Green party candidates, joining or donating to biodiversity conservation NGOs and participating in a biodiversity monitoring citizen science program) and the proximity to large PAs. Innovatively, we addressed this question at national level, with exhaustive data collected in more than 16,000 French municipalities with more than 500 inhabitants. All models controlled for difference in population size, average income and proportion of retired people between municipalities. We found that each of the studied PEBs decreased with distance of the municipality to PAs, even after having controlled by the naturalness of municipalities' surroundings. Our results suggest that, beyond their effect through exposure to natural landscapes, PAs affect PEBs by the institutional context they create. Additionally, PEBs were higher inside PAs than in close surroundings, suggesting that, besides restrictions brought by PAs on inhabitants, a fraction of the population responds positively to their implementation. Our results suggest that PAs can play a role in enhancing environmental friendly ways of life by conserving human's connection with nature.
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Victor Cazalis, Anne-Caroline Prévot. Are protected areas effective in conserving human connection with nature and enhancing pro-environmental behaviours?. Biological Conservation, Elsevier, 2019, 236, pp.548-555. ⟨10.1016/j.biocon.2019.03.012⟩. ⟨hal-02308702⟩

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