HR Excellence in Science
Date: 05.08.2021

Binge-watching, baking, and birding – increased interest in garden birds during the first Covid-19 lockdown

The lockdowns enacted in many places as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic led to wholesale changes in many societies since early 2020. As many people stayed in their homes, they took part in new activities, or ones that are normally reserved for different periods or locations. Moreover, the forced confinement of many people increased their need for alternate expressions of freedom, space, and ways to reconnect with nature. In a new study published today in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, an international group of scientists (based in Portugal, the UK, Czechia, Brazil, and Israel) explored changes in people’s interactions with nature during the Covid-19 lockdown periods in 2020. Ivan Jarić from the Institute of hydrobiology, Biology Centre CAS, was involved in the study.

To understand these patterns, they looked at changes in people’s interest in common garden birds in five European countries (France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, and the UK) during 2020, and the four preceding years. They accomplished this by looking at people’s online interactions with these birds. Such new digital data sources are becoming invaluable in gaining insights about people’s interactions with nature. Here too, the researchers were able to show that during the first lockdown period in the spring months of 2020 there was a sharp increase in interest in common garden birds, evidenced by a growing number of Google searches, Wikipedia pageviews, and sightings posted in the popular citizen-science platform iNaturalist for these species. Interestingly, even in Sweden, where formal lockdowns were not enacted, the researchers were able to see such increases in interest during the same period. Such increases were less evident in the following lockdowns.

The researchers of this study find these results interesting on several fronts. Dr. Uri Roll from the Ben-Gurion Univeristy of the Negev commented “In such times of distress and being restricted to our house the importance of interaction with nature – even if these are just common garden birds outside our window – was evident”; “These interactions with nature are important to us at a fundamental level, and this lesson is particularly important to remember in the face of the biodiversity crisis, wholesale extinctions of species, and greater alienation from nature in the digital age”. Prof. Richard Ladle from CIBIO/InBio further added that “such digital sources about human-nature interactions are expanding at phenomenal rates and could become key in promoting effective conservation campaigns, understanding the efficacy of environmental education, urban planning for more green and equitable cities, and ultimately a deeper understanding of human psychology.”

Figure. Time-series of Relative Search Volume for the first 48 weeks of the year for Google Trends entries for European Robin (Erithacus rubecula), Common Blackbird (Turdus merula), Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus), Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) and the Great Tit (Parus major) in the France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy, and Sweden. Blue lines display means for the years 2016-2019, and red lines are the equivalent values for 2020. Time series were fitted with LOESS smoothing, grey ranges represent 95% confidence intervals, yellow vertical blocks represent lockdown periods for each country. Image source data are found in the supplement.


For more detailed information check the article, published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment:

Roll, U., Jarić, I., Jepson, P., da Costa-Pinto, A.L., Pinheiro, B.R., Correia, R.A., Malhado, A.C.M. and Ladle,  R.J. (2021). COVID lockdowns increase public interest in urban nature. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 19 (6), 320-322.







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