The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about unprecedented changes to human lifestyles across the world. The virus and associated social restriction measures have been linked to an increase in mental health conditions. A considerable body of evidence shows that spending time in and engaging with nature can improve human health and wellbeing. Our study explores nature's role in supporting health during the COVID-19 pandemic. We created web-based questionnaires with validated health instruments and conducted spatial analyses in a geographic information system (GIS). We collected data (n = 1184) on people's patterns of nature exposure, associated health and wellbeing responses, and potential socioecological drivers such as relative deprivation, access to greenspaces, and land-cover greenness. The majority of responses came from England, UK (n = 993). We applied a range of statistical analyses including bootstrap-resampled correlations and binomial regression models, adjusting for several potential confounding factors. We found that respondents significantly changed their patterns of visiting nature as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. People spent more time in nature and visited nature more often during the pandemic. People generally visited nature for a health and wellbeing benefit and felt that nature helped them cope during the pandemic. Greater land-cover greenness within a 250 m radius around a respondent's postcode was important in predicting higher levels of mental wellbeing. There were significantly more food-growing allotments within 100 and 250 m around respondents with high mental wellbeing scores. The need for a mutually-advantageous relationship between humans and the wider biotic community has never been more important. We must conserve, restore and design nature-centric environments to maintain resilient societies and promote planetary health.
Keywords: COVID-19; coronavirus; green space; nature connectedness; nature-based interventions; planetary health; public health.