Coast, countryside and the National Trust

This ESRC funded project explored how young adults connect with their environments when taking part in outdoor pursuits.

It was conducted by Josey Field in partnership with the National Trust, and also considered how young adults engage with charitable landowners, and how they feel about the environment and how it is looked after.

A group of 18 young people aged between 18 and 30 signed up to take part in this research, all regularly participating in activities like surfing, trail running, and mountain biking.

The project used several different research methods known as a qualitative, pluralistic approach. These included:

  • One semi-structured interview: Participants steered the interview and talked about what was most important to them. Each person chose the interview site – which tended to be one of their favourite active places.
  • Visual and graphical elicitation: Some participants brought their interactions to life by sharing photographs. Along with yearly timelines of their activity, these resources helped to animate conversations and provided an insight into how they enjoyed their pursuits.
  • A vignette: In order to approach a delicate subject – such as charitable giving – without seeming to be making moral accusations, all participants responded to a short story about the National Trust.
  • Auto-ethnographic techniques: The study leader took part in activities with some participants; drawing upon these experiences, and her own as a runner and climber, to inform the study. Rather than being separate, this shared involvement acts as the cement for in-depth investigation; stimulating relevant questions and allowing a deeper exploration into the fabric of lives lived outdoors.

Qualitative research can be understood as a celebration of the complexity and contradiction of life, and this was demonstrated in the study’s findings which are summarised here.

Being active in nature offered the young adults many challenging experiences, but through their pursuits they approached these events with positivity and resilience. Recasting even the most ‘tear-jerking’ or ‘muscle-aching’ incident as ‘fun’; their activities brought a sense of wellbeing.

Participants also reported feeling a deep respect for nature and enjoyed being in ‘wild’ and more remote places. Often they would talk about nature as having a ‘mind of its own’, reminding them of their small and impermanent place in the world and putting life in perspective.

Their pursuits also offered a way to connect with other like-minded individuals; helping them to negotiate their social worlds, and in some cases offered them a financial living.

Participants liked to be aware of global environmental issues, but they felt more able to engage with environmental matters by taking responsibility for their own actions, and passing lessons of good practice to others.

The experiences of these young adults were often retold as positive. However, it is notable that issues of gender, consumption, landscape change, and economic mobility were all characterised within their stories.

As critical thinkers, consideration of all of these issues is important if we are to continue working towards the development of an equal and fair future landscape for all.

A blog was written to accompany the progress of this study, it can be viewed here