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Coronavirus changed Finns' relationship with nature, survey finds

Those whose views on nature changed most profoundly were young adults under the age of 25.

Woman and her dog take in the scenery while on a hike. Image: Jouni Tormanen / AOP

The coronavirus crisis appears to have impacted Finnish residents' relationship with nature. As the effects of the epidemic tightened their grip over the spring, people increasingly started heading outdoors to places like national and public parks.

As social distancing and other rules came into effect, one of the few choices people had for leisure time activities was to head into the wilderness.

Young adults - below the age of 25 - were among those who went outdoors in droves, according to a survey by the Finnish Environment Institute (Syke) and the Ministry of the Environment.

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Wooden signpost shows the way through the forest. Image: Jani Aarnio / Yle

Compared to results from a similar survey last year, young adults are placing increasing value on nature and as they head outside more often they are also becoming more concerned about the environment's health.

One-quarter of all respondents said their own relationship to nature became more positive during the corona crisis. More than half said they spend more time outdoors than they used to, and respect for nature has also increased, according to the survey.

Littering and chemicals seen as threats

The survey also asked respondents about what kinds of things they consider threatening to nature. While their opinions do not correlate with actual research on environmental threats, 29 percent of respondents said the biggest threat Mother Nature faces is a decline in biodiversity.

Meanwhile other threats mentioned included climate change, littering and the proliferation of chemicals in the environment.

Respondents often said they seek calm when they take part in outdoor activities. Many said they enjoy mushroom picking and going on excursions. Such outdoor getaways were markedly more popular among students than last year's nature survey found.

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Rubbish litters the ground by a waste bin. Image: Heli Kaski / Yle

Nearly 30 percent of students said they consider national parks and other protected areas to be the most important to them, in 2018, that figure was just 11 percent.

Amost half of all respondents said they head into forests and other natural areas several times a week. Meanwhile, 80 percent said they think nature was important or very important to them.

Again, the proportion of young people who consider nature as important increased in this year's survey, while it declined somewhat among those over the age of 45.

More concern about environment abroad more than at home

Nearly one quarter of respondents said that Finland does not protect the environment adequately at the national level. Overall, the respondents generally held the view that one cannot place a monetary value on Mother Nature or protecting her health.

However, it appeared that the respondents in Finland were more concerned about problems posed to the environment abroad, rather than at home. Just over 40 percent said they were worried about Finland's environment, while 71 percent expressed concern regarding global environmental problems.

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A couple takes a break on a park bench under the shade of a tree. Image: Juha-Petri Koponen / Yle

Although the survey saw increased interest in nature among younger people, senior citizens said they were most concerned about the environment. However, attitudes toward protecting the environment have cooled somewhat, compared to previous years, with slightly more people saying they consider nature as the domain of humans.

Nevertheless nearly all of those queried said they think Finland should stop the decline of natural diversity. Just five percent of respondents said they did not think such efforts were important.

The survey queried about 1,000 people in Finland during the month of June, according to Syke.