Wanted: opinions about nature!

Where would you draw the line between nature and culture? Ecologists from the University of Antwerp would like your* opinion on YOUR definition of nature in this rapidly changing world. Answer their questions now via www.natureornot.be!

*If you’re living in Flanders or the Netherlands, that is.

The corona crisis has once again shown how crucial nature is to our health and well-being. But what is ‘nature’ really? How much ‘culture’ makes green unnatural? Our opinions on this could be surprisingly far apart, researchers Naomi De VriesJonas Lembrechts from the University of Antwerp and Liège suggest. Would you for example consider heathland areas – which can only exist if they are managed – ‘nature’? And parks, gardens and fallow land, do they fall within the definition? And what about invasive exotic species?

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Nature or not, that’s the question! Would you consider the typical Flemish heathlands, agricultural sceneries or fallow land to fall within the definition of nature?

The researchers are now trying to identify these differences in perception. We can expect that the definition will differ from person to person, depending on their experiences with the greenery around us. For example, your place of residence can strongly influence your definition of nature: those who live in the city have a completely different picture of green than those who have spent their whole life ‘on the farm’. In addition, age can also play a role: the older generation, for example, remembers how you could hear a lark chirping above almost every field. For young people, it is a surprise that no noisy parakeets flew through the parks of Brussels. Often we are hardly aware of these differences in perception.

As long as we do not clearly depict these differences in perception, we will remain stuck in a lack of understanding about measures that try to strengthen nature. This results in bickering about cutting down trees to restore heathland, or in heated discussions about combating cuddly exotic species. It also makes it difficult for governments to quantify nature conservation measures if we disagree on what exactly we mean by nature. Just counting forests is not enough – although this sometimes happens in the context of carbon sequestration. Focusing on all the greenery in our landscape does not help us either. However green a football pitch may be, the label ‘nature’ does not deserve it.

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A better understanding of what we experience as nature can explain what we hope nature will look like in the future. Even more importantly, it gives nature managers the opportunity to take more notice of this range of personal definitions in their policy and communication. In this way, we increase support for much-needed nature management. So let’s get to work! Surf to www.natureornot.be and complete the questionnaire. You are doing our nature a tremenduous service.

The #NatureOrNot project is an initiative of the University of Antwerp and Liège. For more information, contact Jonas Lembrechts (jonas.lembrechts@uantwerpen.be, 032651727) or visit the website www.natureornot.be.

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