Focus groups

The main purpose of the focus group research was to gain a qualitative in­sight into the ways in which people value nature in the study area, and to inform the questionnaire survey designed to cover a wider geographical area. The location of each group and potential target populations (namely the general public but, in particular, to include people with disabilities, mi­nority ethnic groups, women, the elderly and young people) were agreed by the client and the steering group before the inception of the project. The groups took place in six different locations across the East Midlands: Not­tingham, Leicester, Mansfield, Corby, Matlock and Spilsby. The focus group discussions were recorded and analysis of these discussions was un­dertaken by comparing the opinions of the different groups and the fre­quency with which certain issues were raised across each of the groups. The qualitative nature of the results was reinforced by the inclusion of quotations from some of the group members.

Key points from the discussion of “what is nature?” and “what is green space?” are summarized below:

• The terms “nature” and “green space” are very hard to define.

• Definitions are influenced by cultural perceptions of the natural envi­ronment.

• Nature cannot be considered in isolation from the world of human activ­ity.

• Green space can be land over which residents feel they have little or no control.

• Green space can be a small pocket of land in an urban area that is badly maintained and unsafe to use.

• Green spaces can also be very precious.

Key points from the discussion on “what is social benefit?” are as fol­lows:

• The key forms of anti-social behaviour are fly-tipping, litter, vandalism, dogs (mess and running loose) and intimidation from large groups of young people.

• Anti-social behaviour can prevent the implementation of green initia­tives.

• Management must be visible whilst at the same time being sensitive to the location.

• There is currently an imbalance between preservation and access to sites of special interest.

• Children are not encouraged to explore and take an interest in nature.

• Parental attitudes towards, and ability to undertake, nature education have changed significantly over the last 50 years.

• The educational system must take responsibility for nature education.

• There is a lack of effective interpretation.

• Green initiatives instill a sense of ownership and encourage responsible behaviour.

Key points from the discussion about the importance of having green spaces nearby are as follows:

• There are many social, mental and physical benefits that can be derived from access to nature and green spaces.

• All the participants felt that access to nature was important, although in some cases the knowledge of nearby nature and green spaces was enough to instill a sense of wellbeing.

• Members of minority ethnic groups are rarely approached to take part in green initiatives and are unsure of where to obtain information.

• Sign posting and information given at sites is often inadequate and not very informative.

• All attempts to provide inclusive access should be sensitive to the loca­tion.

The following quotes give a flavour of the way people expressed their feelings about nature:

“Isn’t it mean to control somebody through their adolescence to the rooms of the house and the immediate area of the street outside? It’s inhumane, it’s like im­prisonment and I think green open space is a place that they should be able to get into and use. […] You can’t manufacture it; it needs to be random space that they find themselves just as we did when we were young… a place to light bonfires {laughs}” (Elderly Male, Mansfield, 13/03/2003).

“I think you work better if you’ve got some green space surrounding you, a few trees and that. Probably at lunch time, it doesn’t have to be a big area and you can go and sit on a bench and have your sandwiches rather than be forced to stay in­side, and I think it’s very beneficial. I think you probably work better after you’ve had your lunch or your tea break, it doesn’t have to be a large area” (Male, Mans­field, 13/02/2003).

“The belief is that if you plant a tree or a sunflower then you are bound to look after it because it is your baby… Sometimes you get minibuses to take people to the countryside, I mean what do they expect people to do; you can’t take them to the countryside and just leave them. You have to put it in context. For people to look after the environment it has to be in context with where they are coming from” (Female, Leicester, 22/03/2003).