Research Summary

Nature club programs promote adolescents’ conservation behavior: A case study in China’s biodiversity hotspot

Nature club encourages middle school students to avoid hunting birds and eating native insects

The Journal of Environmental Education

Research shows that spending time in nature can foster connection to and care for the natural world. Unfortunately, the amount of time that children spend in nature is declining. Spending less time outdoors can cause “nature-deficit disorder” and stunt children’s ecological awareness and motivation to address environmental problems. In China, people generally spend little time outdoors, regardless of whether they live in highly polluted cities or in rural areas where clean air and nature are more readily accessible. Infrequent exposure to the outdoors may help explain limited understanding of the environmental impacts of common actions. For example, residents in Xishuangbanna, China hunt native birds and insects, which threatens local biodiversity. This study explored how environmental education can connect people to nature and motivate conservation behaviors. Specifically, it investigated how a nature club in in Xishuangbanna promoted participants’ conservation intentions and actions.

Changing human behavior is a complex process. This study draws on the Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB), which explores the factors that affect individuals’ behaviors. According to the TPB, intention is a strong predictor of behavior. Intention is determined by three major factors: attitudes, personal norms and perceived behavioral control. Personal norms are social pressures to perform a specific behavior, and perceived behavioral control indicates an individual’s perception of how easy or difficult it is to perform a behavior. However, numerous other factors may influence behaviors, meaning that changing intentions may or may not cause behavior change (e.g., past behavior is another important predictor of subsequent behavior). This study examined the three factors as they related to participants:
Personal norms referred to how much students felt that hunting birds and eating insects aligned with their identities.
Perceived behavioral control reflected how equipped students felt to avoid hunting insects and talk to others about bird conservation.
Attitudes were related to whether students had positive or negative feelings about hunting and conservation.

Researchers recruited participants from urban and rural middle schools in Xishuangbanna. A total of 415 students, aged 12-15 years old, from 10 schools received an introduction to the nature club in school. This included a 30-minute lecture explaining how to make observations with binoculars and cameras, as well as practice using the binoculars and taking photos to share with other environmental educators. They also were trained in crating insect specimens and observing germination and growth of plant seeds. After this training, students were invited to join the nature club to make observations outdoors; 340 students registered, but only 167 completed the nature activities. The researchers designated the remaining 173 non-participants as the control group. A total of 65 participants in the nature club (treatment group) completed both pre and post surveys. Researchers collected pre-surveys at the start of the 8-month program and post-surveys at the end. The surveys measured changes in personal behavioral control, personal norms, and attitudes toward birds and insects, as well as students’ intentions to stop eating insects and convince others to stop hunting birds. In addition, the authors conducted interviews with students from the treatment group to gauge the impact of nature club. Participants discussed what they gained from the nature club, their involvement in other nature-based activities, their perceptions of nature club and environmental issues, and whether nature-based activities influenced their views of nature and environmental issues. The authors used statistics to analyze the survey data and identify themes in the interview data.

The authors found that nature club participation positively affected perceived behavioral control, personal norms, and intended behaviors, but not attitudes. Those who participated in the nature club felt more confident in persuading others not to eat native insects (perceived behavioral control), but no students from control groups mentioned this change. Participants in both the treatment and control group strengthened their own personal norms with respect to hunting birds and insects, although the increase was higher in the treatment group. Regarding behavioral intentions, survey results did not indicate significant improvements for bird conservation, but interview results indicated that more students in the nature club intended to take action related to biodiversity conservation.

This study found that participating in nature clubs increased participants’ perceived behavioral control over not eating insects, an indirect animal conservation behavior. Participants also self-reported significantly decreased frequency of eating insects. Similarly, students who gained confidence in persuading others not to hunt birds were more likely to intend to do so.

One limitation was that the participants in the control and treatment groups were from the same class, which might have biased the effectiveness of nature clubs in generating outcomes. This study assessed students’ self-reported perceived behavioral control, and their responses may be influenced by social desirability. This study had a relatively small number of participants; a larger study in another location may produce different results.

The authors recommend that environmental education programs combine learning experiences outdoors with science curricula. In addition, they recommend that the nature club model be applied to in a variety of educational contexts.

The Bottom Line

This study explored the impacts of a nature club in Xishuangbanna, China, which aimed to promote concern for biodiversity and foster positive attitudes and conservation behaviors towards birds and native insects. Results showed that students from the nature club were more confident in talking to others about avoiding hunting birds and eating insects, which in turn improved their intentions to conserve. The authors recommend implementing nature clubs both in under-resourced schools and in urban areas with easy access to natural areas.