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People in the environment

Most of our science has a focus on ecological systems and communities but we also recognise that communities of people are critically important to attaining a balance with our natural environment. Many of the environmental problems we face are rooted in the difficulty in understanding the links between social, economic and ecological systems. This is a new area that the department is focusing its interdisciplinary partnerships on to provide more fully for the wellbeing of all South Australians.

Socio-economic research provides the department with a better understanding of what motivates the community and key stakeholders to make environmentally sustainable choices. Human factors usually shape the outcomes that the department is delivering for South Australia, and a better understanding of these factors will result in better outcomes for all South Australians. The department is focussing effort to building core capability and closer partnerships in the social, economic and human behaviour disciplines to this end.

Human activities are dependent on the natural environment for raw materials and ecosystem services. Humans often benefit by interacting and shaping ecological systems while ecosystems lose integrity. The department is responding by building our knowledge of community values and perceptions about the natural environment and developing approaches to understand the economic value of landscapes and seascapes and the ecological services they provide to South Australians.

There is also a growing awareness of the important role and relationships people have with the natural environment. International research shows there is a direct link between people spending time in nature and improving our feelings of health and wellbeing, which is recognised in our Healthy Parks, Healthy People program.

Providing opportunities for people to enjoy South Australia's natural and cultural heritage can enrich their lives. The connection they make can influence how much they value these special places for the long term protection of parks and the environment. This shared stewardship will help protect and care for parks and the environment so that parks can continue to conserve biodiversity and be enjoyed by people long into the future.

Parks are an integral part of the landscape and play an important role in supporting healthy, vibrant and prosperous communities. Much of the department's current research in the social sciences focuses on understanding visitors' behaviour in parks through community surveys and visitor monitoring programs. A greater understanding of the benefits of parks and the environment is vital in developing a strategic approach to policy, planning and management of parks. The current development of a draft People and Parks Visitor Strategy will help provide this direction.

Our decisions about the way parks are managed are based on evidence and risk assessment. Social research findings help guide this direction and create new recreational opportunities in parks. Our marine protected area program has been founded on a holistic understanding of the social, economic and environmental benefits gained through its creation.