Is there any correlation between being pro-nature and living in rural or urban areas ? If so what does this mean for nature conservation or environment groups, where they should look for support or how they should try to shape policy ?
Some of Britain’s largest and most prominent voluntary sector organizations, such as the three million member National Trust, are principally devoted to ‘protection’ and enjoyment of ‘rural’ heritage. Economic, social and physical differences between ‘urban’ and ‘rural’ areas are frequently assumed to reflect or drive lifestyles, identity, attitudes and even values. As the countryside generally looks greener than the town, it is easy to assume that this must be where the nature is and people in rural areas are different in leading ‘more natural lives’, and indeed are the more pro-nature part of the population.
Every so often these ideas become controversial and political. A rural-urban dichotomy provides a conveniently simple frame which invades the thinking not just of many who know little about it – such as many journalists – but even of conservation groups who may use it while at the same time realizing that changes in farming in particular have objectively drained nature from much of the green rural landscape.
This is a hugely complex area and this blog cannot claim to investigate it in any detail but shares one set of data from the 2015 British Values Survey drawn from a nationally representative sample of 2020 adults (over 16) by age and sex, which includes one measure of being pro-nature, and separates people by location: the sort of settlement they say they live in. Thanks to Cultural Dynamics Strategy and Marketing (CDSM) for permission to reproduce this data. (Read more about their model here). So far as I know this is the first study to look at UK values, nature and location. Do let me know if you are aware of other relevant research.
Pro-Nature and Location
One of the statements tested in the CDSM survey was “He [or she] strongly believes that people should care for nature. Looking after the environment is important to him [or her]”, for which respondents selected one of Not at all like me, Not like me, A little like me, Somewhat like me, Like me, Very much like me. This creates the ‘Nature Attribute’ on the values maps.
The same survey mapped location: people opted for one of these settlement categories as best describing where they live: Rural, a Village, a Small Town, a Large Town, a Small City, the Outer Suburb of a large city or, the Inner part of a Large City.
Who is Most Pro-Nature ?
The responses to the nature question are shown as a ‘map’ here:
Overall 33% of the population responded positively to the nature proposition (agreed that they were like, very much like or somewhat like a person who had those feelings) but agreement is not spread evenly around the map.
The Nature map shows greatest overall agreement with the statement He [or she] strongly believes that people should care for nature. Looking after the environment is important to him [or her] in the Pioneers and in the RT Roots VM of the Settlers and the NP Now Person VM of the Prospectors. There is least support in the GD Golden Dreamer Prospectors.
Note: the ‘Values Map’ is divided into three Maslow Groups (Settler, Prospector and Pioneer) and within those, twelve Values Modes or VMs. In order of their ‘transition’ they are Roots (RT), Smooth Sailing (SS), Brave New World (BNW), Certainty First (CF), Golden Dreamer (GD), Happy Follower (HF), Now Person (NP, Tomorrow Person (TP), Transitional (TS), Concerned Ethical (CE), Flexible Individualist (FI) and Transcender (TX). For more on the VMs see links at the www.campaignstrategy.org home page and key below:
‘Nature’ is just one of many Attributes which correspond to questions asked in the British Values Survey and these Attributes can be located on on the values map (below)
The point of maximum ‘Espousal’ (statistical agreement) for ‘Nature’ as defined by the statement above, is in the Pioneer area. The red dots on the map below show which other Attributes it is positively correlated with. These include many ‘centred’ in the Pioneer area and some in the Settler area. (See links at the end of this document to download the Attributes list and a more detailed higher resolution slide set of the images with further data).
For conservation groups in the UK three important things flow from this when considering their potential natural ‘base’, if their offer is framed as something like people should care for nature, and looking after the environment is important :
(a) the main base is in the Pioneers and they see nature and caring for it in terms of inter-connectedness, globalness, universalism and many other values
(b) another robust part of the base is Settler, especially RT Roots Settler but they see the importance of nature and protecting it more in terms of identity and survival, and associate it with values such as conformity, security, discipline and recovering the past.
These two sets of motivations give an opportunity to agree on nature being a good thing worthy of protection but then to disagree on why, and what to do about it. For instance the Pioneers are likely to agree with Attributes like Positive Green and Global:
“I believe that the way we live is having a huge negative impact on the environment + I think it’s up to each and every one of us, starting with me, to change our behaviour in the interests of saving the environment”
“I believe there’s still a lot I can learn from other cultures + By preference, I’d live somewhere surrounded by people from different ethnic, racial and social backgrounds.”
Settlers on the other hand are likely to agree with Attributes like Shangri-la and Distant:
“I believe that society has lost its way + I would like to live in a time where there is more mystery, romanticism and adventure”
When it comes to spending time doing non-family things – work, sport, social life, etc. – I’m not concerned + My family is always there and I will be able to find time for them.
(c) The blue dots indicate where there is a negative correlation with the Nature statement, which is across much of the Prospector part of the values map, including Attributes such as Aspiration, Achievement and Good Time. This is an indication of why conservation and environment groups usually fail to generate much support from Prospectors, even though they make up about a third of the population (and a much higher proportion of those in full time work).
In the CDSM system the top two thirds of respondents agreeing with a statement are termed ‘Espousers’, in this case Espousing the ‘Nature’ Attribute (in total this is 33% of the sample of 2020). The data are shown below:
As well as Pioneers and particularly TX Transcenders and CE Concerned Ethicals responding strongly to the ‘nature’ proposition, so do RT Roots Settlers, and women (indexing at 118 ie 18% more than average while men under index). This female skew in nature groups in the UK is well known but is cultural and not universal to all countries. People over 45 over index positively and those under 34 under-index but there is, despite frequent media assumptions to the contrary, no correlation between the pro-nature attitude and social class (bottom right). The box below explains the colour coding.
As discussed in a previous blog, if you change the framing of the ‘nature’ proposition, for example by making it first and foremost about being for-children rather than just for-nature you can get a significantly different result, and win agreement many more people (especially Settlers and GD Golden Dreamers) who reject this form of the nature/environment statement.
The charts below show the MG and VM level nature responses and the MG indexes, along with the actual numbers of people who are Nature Espousers in each Maslow Group. Note that even though Settlers are more likely than Prospectors as a whole to be pro-Nature, there are more pro-Nature Prospectors because they are a larger segment of the population. Converting this disposition into more active support is probably the greatest single gain that environment and conservation groups could make in terms of social and political influence. Unfortunately most conservation and environment groups are content just to mine their existing base, while at the same time often complaining about their lack of ‘public support’.
Below are the same data broken out by Values Modes.
The Question of Location
Here is the overall breakdown of the BVS sample of 2020 people by location:
As might be expected from a representative British survey, most people say they live in places which would be described by various measures as ‘urban’ or ‘suburban’. Only 3.5% opt for ‘rural’ and 14% for ‘village’.
Here are the data for each settlement category by MG and VM values groups, along with age, sex and Socio-Economic Group class:
The only statistically significant difference between the British population as a whole and people living in ‘Rural Areas’ in this survey is an over index in the 45-54 age class and an under index amongst the 22 – 34 year olds. There are no sex, class or values differences.
Settlers over index in Villages (but note they are not the largest of the three MGs in villages – an over index is a disproportionate skew not an absolute majority), along with the RT VM and a skew to older people. No class difference from the population average.
In small towns (Elgin and Ramsgate are just category examples) the NP VM under index but otherwise values are population average, and there is just a skew to the over 55s.
Large towns such as Oldham are, as a category, average on all measures.
Small cities are average on all measures except an over index in the 22-24 age class and an under index in the over 65s.
The suburbs of large cities are average on all measures except for an under index in the DE social class.
The inner part of large cities shows the most differences. There is no class difference from the average population but NP (Now People) over index and RT under index (quite possibly because NPs are more likely to move to ‘where the action is’ and RTs are least likely to do so), there is an over index to males, Prospectors and under 34s with an under index amongst the over 55s.
All in all then the values and other differences across most of these settlement categories, especially class, are very few. You cannot make generalisations about types of place in these terms, and values groups or class. In fact people do show strong locational-values differences but at geographic scales which are much finer than these categories and vastly more granular than a general ‘urban/rural’ difference: for example on a ‘street by street’ basis. It will also be the case that there are settlement differences within these categories, for example some small towns or villages may have a skew one way or another towards different values groups.
Nature and Location
Along with the data shown immediately above, the BVS tables contain data on the top 100 Attributes broken out by location. One of these is the Nature Attribute. I’ve not shown these tables in the blog but you can download some slides with more detail here. Extracting the nature results by location, this is what we find:
The highest proportion of Nature Espousers in any one location category is in villages at 43.8%, followed by rural areas at 41.1%. Lowest is in ‘small city’ at 24%. We can only speculate as to why this may be the case. As we’ve seen above Settlers and older people over index in villages and some of these will be people who moved to villages to retire, in some cases because they want to be in a more tranquil place and maybe because they are seeking nature. But people move, or not, for many different reasons.
Above is the Nature Index showing that the only statistically significant departures from the national average across settlement type are an under index for inner large city and small city, and an over index for villages.
Perhaps of more practical significance for recruiters, campaigners and marketers, the actual number of people positively espousing Nature in each locational category are shown below. From this you can see that Small Town is the single category with the greatest number followed by Villages, Suburbs of a Large City, Large Town, Inner Large City, Small City and Rural Area.
If therefore you ask the question “where are the conservationists ?” the answer is that most of them are in urban not rural areas. Counting villages + rural as overall ‘rural’, 77% of all Nature Espousers are from towns or cities and 23% from villages or rural areas. If all the ‘small town’ category was also counted as ‘rural’, 54% of Nature Espousers are from large towns or cities.
I can’t share the data for all the conservation groups in the UK because no such survey has been commissioned or because they’ve not released the information but it is likely that the Nature Espouser profile described above does represent the potential core base of the conventional ‘green’ conservation offer.
Of course the current recruitment and retention of people by environment/ conservation groups is only a fraction of that potential – if we assume it is a total of 4m individuals from a national population of 65m of whom about 52m are over 16 then that’s about 8% as opposed to the 33% ‘Nature Espousers’. A best case scenario might then be to multiply actual support fourfold. Changing that offer to appeal to more Prospectors could significantly increase the potential, and provide a politically more robust and powerful base of support.
Download slides with more detail: UK Location, Nature and Values
Download abbreviated CDSM Attributes list
Read more about values in my book What Makes People Tick – available at this page