International Day for Biological Diversity 2022

Nature Unlocked: Wakehurst calls on public to participate in major study, gathering scientific data on how biodiversity impacts wellbeing.

Release date: 16 March 2022

  • Wakehurst, Kew’s wild botanic garden in Sussex, turns into a ‘living laboratory’ for RBG Kew’s vital scientific research  
  • New study evaluates impact of different landscapes on human wellbeing  
  • Heart Rate Variability (HRV) monitors help scientists measure changes in heart rate and mood  
  • Local schools to gather data on how children aged 7–13yrs connect with nature 

Over 300 members of the public have the chance to contribute to a major new study at Wakehurst, Kew’s wild botanic garden in Sussex. Launching in May to mark International Day for Biological Diversity (22 May) and led by Royal Holloway, University of London’s Professor Dawn Watling and Wakehurst’s Head of Public Programmes, Lorraine Lecourtois, the research aims to empirically measure the benefits of nature for people, demonstrating how different habitats and landscape impact human wellbeing.  

RBG Kew and Royal Holloway researchers hope that this data, gathered across 6 months, will both influence key decision makers on future planting schemes and help support gardeners at home to maximise the benefits of their personal green spaces. The research could also impact social prescribing, providing GPs with new evidence to support recommendations for spending time in outdoor spaces for wellbeing benefits. 

The research forms part of Nature Unlocked, the Landscape Ecology Programme launched by RBG Kew in 2021. Over the past year, Nature Unlocked has seen Wakehurst become a ‘living laboratory’ for Kew scientists, researching the value of UK biodiversity to inform nature-based solutions to critical challenges such as climate change and food security. The research streams underpinning Nature Unlocked range from Carbon to Pollinators, with this study sitting within the Nature Connectedness branch. The Landscape Ecology Programme is supported by HM Treasury, Sky Zero, Ground Control, Mount Anvil & Peabody and Players of People’s Postcode Lottery. 

Wakehurst’s unique landscape, a nationally important Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), offers a range of species-rich habitats across its 535-acre grounds ranging from native and exotic woodlands, wetlands, and grasslands, to designed landscapes and ornamental gardens. It forms the ideal site for the wellbeing research, exposing participants to a broad range of environments within an accessible distance. 

On arrival, participants will complete brief questionnaires to establish their mood, before receiving a Heart Rate Variability (HRV) monitor to wear around their wrist. A mobile phone, also supplied, will be used to track their movements within the gardens, whilst the HRV monitor will measure heart rate. Following their 45-minute walk, visitors will complete a further questionnaire alongside various additional questions designed to measure feelings experienced when spending time in nature and how they feel once their walk has been completed. With this data, Royal Holloway researchers can assess the impact of individual landscapes, and how its impact may differ by age.  

Responses of over 1000 younger visitors will be gathered in an accompanying study, developed in partnership with 36 local schools to Wakehurst. 

Ed Ikin, Director of Wakehurst says, “Biodiverse landscapes have benefits for all of us: cleaner air and water, sustainable food and carbon storage. They can also make us happy, satisfying our need for visual stimulation, colour and shelter. Our research aims to demonstrate why biodiversity matters, providing evidence and inspiration to make better decisions and encouraging more people to care for nature. Our Landscape Ecology Programme is founded on partnerships, and we’re excited to see Royal Holloway University of London’s expertise unlocking why Wakehurst’s biodiverse landscape benefits so many people.” 

Professor Dawn Watling says, “I am really excited to begin this collaboration with Wakehurst. With the biodiverse property at Wakehurst, we have a fantastic opportunity, using a multifaceted approach (from children to older adults, self-reported feelings and objective heart rate variability measurements), to gain an understanding of how different biodiverse landscapes may have unexpected impacts on our wellbeing.” 

The study will run from May – November 2022.


Notes to Editors

For more information, high-res images, or to request an interview please contact Frances Teehan, Strategic Communications Manager at Wakehurst, on 

About Wakehurst 

Please note that Wakehurst is referred to just as Wakehurst, not Wakehurst Place. It is not a National Trust property. 

Wakehurst, Kew’s wild botanic garden in Sussex is home to the Millennium Seed Bank and over 500 acres of the world’s plants including temperate woodlands, ornamental gardens and a nature reserve. It is situated in the High Weald of Sussex, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and focuses on wild plant collections. The Millennium Seed Bank houses and protects seed from the world’s most substantial and diverse collection of threatened and useful wild plants, making it the most biodiverse place on earth.    

RBG Kew receives just under half of its funding from Government through the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and research councils. Further funding needed to support Kew’s vital work comes from donors, membership and commercial activity including ticket sales.   

About Nature Unlocked: the Landscape Ecology Programme at Wakehurst 

RBG Kew is researching the value of UK biodiversity to inform nature-based solutions to critical challenges such as climate change and food security.

This major research project sees Kew scientists use Wakehurst’s rich landscape as a ‘living laboratory’ to collect high quality scientific evidence on the value of UK biodiversity – the diversity of all living things (plants, fungi and animals).

With this strong scientific data, our scientists can inform and influence the land management policies and practices created by key decision makers. In turn, this offers government bodies, businesses, communities and landowners effective nature-based solutions to environmental and social challenges. Read more on our website: Landscape Ecology Programme | Kew 

About Royal Holloway, University of London – 

Royal Holloway, University of London, is ranked in the top 25 universities in the UK[1].   Through world class research that expands minds and changes lives, the dedication of our teachers and the feel of the Royal Holloway experience, ours is a community that inspires individuals to succeed academically, socially and personally.

The university was founded by two social reformers who pioneered the ideal of education and knowledge for all who could benefit. Their vision lives on today. As one of the UK’s leading research-intensive universities we are home to some of the world’s foremost authorities in the sciences, arts, business, economics and law. We are strengthened by diversity, and welcome students and academics who travel from all over the world to study and work here, ensuring an international and multi-cultural perspective within a close knit and historic campus. 

[1] Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2020