Being a long-term member of Land for Wildlife (LfW) for over 20 years, and having a background in psychology, I have often wondered what motivates people like me to become involved in conservation behaviour. How important are factors such as a rural background and previous experience with the natural world? Why do people join LfW and what role does LfW play for its members? Does personality play a role and if so, how?
To investigate these questions, I enlisted the help of 31 LfW volunteer registrants in the three Local Government Authorities of Noosa, Sunshine Coast and Moreton Bay.
Participants followed a four-step process:
- I conducted an in-depth, one-to-one interview with each participant, following their journey from the relocation to their current property, through to their decision to register for LfW, the subsequent changes in their land management practices and the connectedness to the nature on their property. I investigated the many variables known to be involved in Pro-nature Conservation Behaviour (ProCoB), to determine their influence in each individual.
- After the interview, I conducted a property walk with each registrant, which provided the opportunity for the landholder to show me what they had achieved, the challenges that had been encountered and how they had been overcome, as well as what plans they had for the future.
- I also requested them to complete the Temperament & Character Inventory (TCI -140 self-report personality questionnaire) administered online, prior to the interview. The inventory is based on a theory of personality that suggests that personality consists of the two principal domains of Temperament and Character. Temperament is largely genetic (what we are born with) whereas Character is what a person makes of themselves as they navigate their way through their lives, learning from experience.
- I also asked participants to respond to the Inclusion of Nature in Self (INS) Scale. This is a graphical representation of images, which measures the degree to which an individual identifies themselves and their relationship with the natural world.
Nine LfW staff, who were familiar with each participant’s property, were also interviewed, to gain their insights into the landholder’s journey.
So, what was the outcome of the research?
- Although those with a rural background and childhood experience with the natural world were more likely to join LfW, they were not essential features. The majority of people did not join for conservation reasons, but rather to learn more about, and have assistance with, the management of their properties.
- After joining LfW, their motivation for involvement changed and their original motivation to join LfW did not necessarily continue to be the reason for their ongoing participation and engagement, which was dependent on other factors that developed during their involvement with LfW. Their aspirations for their land also changed as their experiences with the natural world on their properties led to a greater understanding of ecological systems. They also became more motivated by social factors, like being with “like-minded people” and receiving support and encouragement from the LfW community. They also developed a desire to become more involved in local environmental issues with other LfW registrants, as well as expressing concern for global environmental issues.
- These changes in motivation and commitment to ProCoB on their property demonstrated an increasing connectedness to nature on their land, which represents the outcome of a dynamic bonding process. This has characteristics of an experiential learning process, in which LfW plays a pivotal role. This process takes time to develop and was seen most often in individuals who were able to spend an appreciable amount of time on their properties, interacting and developing an intimate relationship with the natural world. Participants who had less opportunity for this interaction, due to constraints imposed by time, work and/or physical constraints were less likely to exhibit strong connectedness to nature on their property.
- All the research participants were attached to their properties, enjoyed living there, and said they would be sad when they had to leave. However, some participants displayed such a deep and binding connection to the nature on their land, that they were extremely reluctant to entertain thoughts of having to leave and expressed great concern for, and protectiveness towards the property, the wildlife and their efforts. In some this led to their registration for a Voluntary Conservation Agreement.
- Personality factors were also demonstrated to be of importance:
- All participants had higher-than-average levels of the two Character dimensions of Self-directedness (self-determination) and Cooperativeness, which are considered essential pre-requisites for an ongoing commitment to work on the property. Connectedness to nature on property is considered to be a facet of the third dimension of Character (Self-Transcendence, which is our ability to overcome self-interest and strive for the greater good). As expressed above, LfW, through an experiential learning process, acts as a catalyst for the development of this aspect of Character.
- The results showed variations in the Temperament dimensions of participants and indicated that Temperament played a significant role in the manner in which individual landholders accessed, processed and then acted on the environmental information. Therefore, for information to be successfully conveyed, a program requires a structure, content and modes of presentation that cater for those individual differences. The research showed that the LfW program offers a range of different activities which successfully accommodates the different personality styles.
Each person follows a unique path. Having a rural background or previous experience with the natural world are not necessary pre-requisites for people to develop a strong connectedness to nature on their property. Instead, it develops as a result of an experiential learning process, in which LfW plays a pivotal role.
Personality is important in terms of the capacity of registrants to put in the “hard yards”, (character dimensions) and also in terms of their preferences for accessing, processing and acting on environmental information (temperament dimensions). The LfW program provides a variety of activities (group and one-to-one) which cater for these individual differences, helping people to develop strong connections to the wildlife on their properties, regardless of their backgrounds. This is great news for the environment.
I would like to thank all LfW participants and LfW management for the generous contribution of their time and knowledge, without which this research would not have been possible. For further information on the research, you are welcome to contact me at [email protected]
Cloninger CR, Svrakic NM & Przybeck TR (1993) A psychobiological model of temperament and character. Archives of General Psychiatry, 50 (12), 975.
Schultz PW. Inclusion with nature. Understanding the psychology of human-nature interactions. The Psychology of Sustainable Development. New York: Kluver. Pp 61-78.
Article and photos by Marilyn Shrapnel
Land for Wildlife member
Diamond Valley, Sunshine Coast
PhD Candidate, University of Sunshine Coast