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Katherine Irvine

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Staff picture: Katherine Irvine
Social, Economic and Geographical Sciences
+44 (0)1224 395 397

The James Hutton Institute
Aberdeen AB15 8QH
Scotland UK

I am a senior researcher in conservation behaviour / environmental psychology focusing on people-environment relationships. I draw on an interdisciplinary background in molecular biology, natural resource management, conservation behaviour and environmental psychology to investigate the interface between people and their environmental settings (for example, natural, built, home, office) with an aim to develop bridges between issues of ecological quality, health/wellbeing and sustainability.

I joined the Social, Economic and Geographical Sciences research group in April 2013 following eight years as a Senior Researcher with De Montfort University’s Institute of Energy and Sustainable Development. I collaborate internationally with colleagues from medicine, ecology, landscape architecture, engineering, industry and other social scientists.

I am a member of the Economic and Social Research Council peer review college, a contributor to the UK’s Valuing Nature Network and a visiting research scholar at the University of Michigan with previous visiting appointments at University of Massachusetts and Johns Hopkins University. I was co-author on a highly cited interdisciplinary paper on biodiversity and wellbeing (Fuller, Irvine et al 2007) which was recommended by Faculty 1000 Review and has spawned a new area of research into the potential wellbeing benefits of biodiverse settings.

Current research interests 

My research centres on the relationship between people and nature, a relationship conceptualised as bi-directional or socio-ecological, whereby nature does not merely 'serve' people but people can also 'serve' nature. I specialise in theoretically-grounded applied research using a combination of research designs (for example, quasi-experimental) and methods (qualitative and quantitative; objective) to focus on two research areas.

Understanding, designing and evaluating ways to promote sustainable behaviour

Addressing global environmental problems such as climate change or loss of biodiversity necessitates engagement from all levels of society. Finding ways to meaningfully involve individual citizens in seeking and implementing appropriate and sustainable solutions in their day-to-day lives, and more broadly, has been a long standing research interest.

'Good' health / wellbeing benefits from interaction with the natural environment

The intuitive sense that time in nature is good for human wellbeing has a growing body of empirical evidence and is increasingly of policy interest worldwide. Yet reliable, valid measures remain needed as does a firmer understanding of the less tangible dimensions of wellbeing, for example, spiritual or 'connection to nature'. Similarly, there is much to learn about the development of 'nature interventions' that successfully engage people with nature. These interests are being pursued through research on the motivations for use of and wellbeing benefits derived from different environmental settings, including biodiverse; and developing insight into and measures of the spiritual experience of and connection to nature amongst different land managers (for example, farmers, gardeners).

Specific research projects include both externally-funded collaborations and projects within the Scottish Government Strategic Research Programme. External projects include: (i) an Ofgem/Low Carbon Networks-funded research trial, My Electric Avenue, is investigating the acceptability of controlled charging for electric vehicle users; (ii) the UK National Ecosystem Assessment Shared, Cultural and Plural Values project which aims to develop a deeper understanding of cultural, shared and plural values for ecosystems, the natural environment and ecosystem service (funded by Defra/Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)/ESRC/Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)).

Projects within the Scottish Government Strategic Research Programme include work within: (i) Developing a Low Carbon Rural Economy ; (ii) Understanding Land Managers’ Attitudes and Behaviour towards the Management of Environmental Assets and Responding to Climate Change: Optimising the Delivery of Multiple Benefits from Land Use; and (iii) Understanding the Linkages and Interdependencies between Rural and Urban areas.

An ongoing collaboration with the University of Michigan (USA) is developing a framework for evaluating the wellbeing effects of non-clinical interventions in nature, such as the Walk for Health programme in England (current) and retreats (pending).

Past research 

Within the UK, projects have been supported by Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)-funded research contracts to investigate psychological benefits of biodiversity (EPSRC grant GR/S2059/1, CityForm consortium), mapping and management of household carbon footprints in urban areas (EPSRC grant EP/F007604/2, 4M consortium), and the feasibility of using wireless technology to promote individual-level energy behaviour change in non-domestic settings (EP/1000259/1, Wi-be consortium; ranked first by panel). Additional funded projects have come through Natural Environment Research Council-Valuing Nature Network, Defra, and Big Lottery Fund (Sustainable Harborough Project).

Research in the United States has identified cognitive barriers to land stewardship, developed a behaviour change activity for a zoo setting, and assessed the impact of work breaks in a natural setting ton hospital nurses’ well-being.

Consultancy research includes survey development and analysis of energy consumption patterns for a large-scale energy reduction trial of 15,000 UK households focused on understanding consumer interaction with different behaviour change interventions to provide feedback on energy use (Ofgem-funded Energy Demand Research Project).

PhD Supervision

Rebecca Bell. Dig for Health: Wellbeing and sustainability through urban community gardening. De Montfort University. Collaborative partners: University of Michigan (USA), Saffron Acres Community Garden, Leicester, UK. Current.

Carl Holland. Greenhouse gas emissions reduction policies: attitudinal and social network influences on employee acceptability. Collaborative partner: De Montfort University’s Sustainable Development Committee. Current.

Ruth Kelly. Electrochromic glazing: User experience in a daylit office. De Montfort University. Collaborative partners: Loughborough University, Sangobain. Current.

Melissa Marselle. Growing resilience through interaction with nature. De Montfort University. Collaborative partners: University of Michigan (USA), Natural England, UK. Current.

Richard Snape. Household behaviour and learning of electricity consumption in the context of a smart grid. De Montfort University. Current.

Jill Fisher. Promoting low carbon lifestyles: addressing information needs through small group participation. De Montfort University. Awarded 2013.

Thomas White. Attitudes towards climate change: Knowledge structure and the role of interventions in attitude change. De Montfort University. Awarded 2011.

Caroline Wilson. The role of communication in encouraging sustainable behaviour. De Montfort University. Awarded 2011.

Andrew Wallace. Reducing carbon emissions by households: the effect of footprinting and personal carbon allowances. De Montfort University. Awarded 2009.

Claudia Bernardini. Urban sustainability: the role of place identity and environmental representation in the relationship between people and nature. De Montfort University. Awarded 2007.


  • Irvine, K.N., Warber, S.L., Devine-Wright, P. and Gaston, K.J. 2013. Understanding urban greenspace as a health resource: A qualitative comparison of visit motivation and derived effects among park users in Sheffield. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 10, 417-442.
  • Kenter, J.O., Bryce, R., Davies, A., Jobstvogt, N., Watson, V., Ranger, S., Solandt, J.L., Duncan, C., Christie, M., Crump, H., Irvine, K.N., Pinard, M., Reed, M.S. 2013. The value of potential marine protected areas in the UK to divers and sea anglers. UNEP-WCMC, Cambridge, UK
  • Marselle, M.R., Irvine, K.N., Warber, S.L. 2013. Walking for well-being: are group walks in certain types of natural environments better for well-being than group walks in urban environments? International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 10, 5603-5628.
  • Warber, S.L., Irvine, K.N., Devine-Wright, P. and Gaston, K.J. 2013. Modelling wellbeing and the relationship between individuals and their environments. In: Coles, R. and Millman, Z. (eds). Landscape, Well-being and Environment. Taylor and Francis/Routledge): Abington, UK
  • Coleman, M.J., Irvine, K.N., Lemon, M. and Shao, L. 2013. Promoting behaviour change through personalized energy feedback in offices. Building Research and Information 41, 637-651
  • Keniger, L.E., Gaston, K.J., Irvine, K.N. and Fuller, R.A. 2013. What are the benefits of interacting with nature? International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 10, 913-935.
  • Fuller, R.A., Irvine, K.N., Davies, Z.G. and Gaston, K.J. 2012. Interactions between people and birds in urban landscapes. Studies in Avian Biology 45, 249-266.
  • Dallimer, M., Irvine, K.N., Skinner, A., Davies, Z., Armsworth, P., Rouquette, J., Maltby, L., Warren, P. and Gaston, K.J. 2012. Biodiversity and the feel-good factor: understanding associations between self-reported human well-being and species richness. BioScience 62, 47-55
  • Wilson, C. and Irvine, K.N. 2012. Bottom-up communication: identifying opportunities and limitations through an exploratory field-based evaluation. Energy Efficiency 5.
  • Wallace A., Irvine, K.N., Wright, A.J. and Fleming, P.D. 2010. Public attitudes to personal carbon allowances: Findings from a mixed-method study. Climate Policy 10, 385-409.
  • Wallace, A., Fleming, P., Wright, A.J. and Irvine, K.N. 2010. Home energy efficiency grants and advice: Findings from the English midlands. Local Environment 15, 403-417.
  • Fuller, R.A. and Irvine, K.N. 2010 Interactions Between People and Nature in Urban Environments. In: Gaston, K.J. (ed). Urban Ecology. British Ecological Society and Cambridge University Press
  • Irvine, K.N., Fuller, R.A., Devine-Wright, P., Payne, S., Tratalos, J., Warren, P., Lomas, K.J. and Gaston, K.J. 2010. Ecological and psychological value of urban green space. In: Jenks, J. and Jones, C. (eds.). Dimensions of the Sustainable City. Springer, Netherlands
  • Lomas, K.J., Bell, M.C., Firth, S.K., Gaston, K.J., Goodman, P., Leake, J.R., Namdeo, A., Rylatt, M., Allinson, D., Davies, Z.G., Edmondson, J.L., Galatioto, F., Brake, J.A., Guo, L., Hill, G., Irvine, K.N., Taylor, S.C. and Tiwary, A. 2010. The Carbon Footprint of UK Cities: 4M: Measurement, Modelling, Mapping and Management. In: Gossop, C. (ed.). Sustainable City/Developing World (Review 6). ISOCARP
  • Irvine, K.N., Devine-Wright, P., Payne, S.R., Fuller, R.A., Painter, B. and Gaston, K.J. 2009. Green space, soundscape and urban sustainability: an interdisciplinary, empirical study. Local Environment 14, 155-172
  • Davies, Z.G., Fuller, R.A., Loram, A., Irvine, K.N., Sims, V. and Gaston, K.J. 2009. A national scale inventory of resource provision for biodiversity within domestic gardens. Biological Conservation 142, 761-771
  • Bernardini, C. and Irvine, K.N. 2007. The 'nature' of urban sustainability: private or public greenspaces? In: Kungolas, A., Brebbia, C.A. & Beriatos, E. (eds.). Sustainable Development and Planning III (volume 2). WIT Press, UK, pp. 661-674.

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The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.