Exploring 'nature' conceptualisations and 'connections' : a case study in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand : a thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Environmental Management, Massey University, Aotearoa New Zealand

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Human actions and activities, particularly in urban Western countries, are degrading ‘nature’ at an unprecedented rate. As a result, the global environmental scientific community stress the urgent need to shift behavioural actions to more sustainable ones, for example actions that are respectful toward ‘nature’ and other species. To shift actions, it is crucial to understand what underpins them. As it is largely suggested that beliefs about ‘nature’ inform subsequent actions toward ‘nature’, the interest for environmental managers should be understanding what underpins these beliefs to initiate change. Research exploring the beliefs that people hold about ‘nature’ is growing but is still scarce in environmental management as most research is initiated from the psychological discipline. This means that the findings from such studies struggle to make their way into environmental management and therefore the implications are not translated into practical outcomes which are relevant to environmental managers active in the field. Consequently, the research in this thesis explored four facets of beliefs relating to ‘nature’ to contribute to environmental management literature and aimed to situate the findings into environmental management outcomes. The four research areas investigated were conceptualisations of ‘nature’, conceptualisations of ‘connections to ‘nature’’, what the self-perceived pathways or barriers to ‘connections to ‘nature’’ are, and how respondents view themselves in relation to ‘nature’ along with examining whether this influences their pro-‘nature’ beliefs. These avenues of research were investigated with between 960 and 997 respondents from Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand via a cross-sectional, qualitative online survey and interviews. The findings suggested that most of the respondents conceptualise ‘nature’ as being something that neither humans nor human activities are a part and similarly mostly view ‘nature’ as separate from themselves. The research further uncovered that common associations of ‘nature’ are related to flora and fauna, and that there are several ways in which ‘connections to ‘nature’’ are conceptualised, but most commonly, they are perceived as being cognitive, affective, or experiential connections. The research has shown that respondents commonly perceive modern societal factors as a barrier to their connection to ‘nature’ but on the contrary perceive exposure to ‘nature’ as being a key pathway to their connections. Lastly, the findings highlighted that interconnectedness with ‘nature’ correlated with higher pro-‘nature’ beliefs across the respondent group. The research and its findings make an important contribution to the limited environmental management empirical research on ‘nature’ conceptualisations and ‘connections’ available internationally. This research also provides empirical insights into the population of Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, which can be used to provide practical interventions and initiatives to facilitate stronger connections and relationships to ‘nature’. These can be implemented in practice, policy/strategy, and planning. Recommendations are made to assist with this.
Nature, Psychological aspects, New Zealanders, Auckland, Attitudes, Environmental management