More people are heading for the outdoors for their enjoyment, a survey has revealed.
Visits to English green spaces are estimated at 2.93 billion a year and spent more than £17bn during their trips.
Urban green spaces are becoming increasingly popular, the Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment annual report found. The research is produced jointly by Natural England, the Forestry Commission and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
The number of adults in England who visited the outdoors between March 2013 and February 2014 was the highest for five years.
The survey found that 58 per cent of the population claim to make one leisure visit or more to the outdoors every week and it is estimated that the 42.3 million adults resident in England took a total of 2.93 billion visits to the natural environment.
The latest annual report suggests that green spaces near home are increasingly important with an increase in outdoor recreation visits to towns and cities. Currently just under half of outdoor recreation visits were taken to a destination within a town or city compared to two-fifths in 2010-11. Correspondingly, 96 per cent of people ‘agree’ or ‘strongly agree’ that having green spaces close to where they live is important.
Visiting the natural environment for health or exercise accounted for an estimated 1.3 billion visits to the natural environment between March 2013 and February 2014. Respondents to the survey also agreed that being outdoors made them feel ‘calm and relaxed’ and the proportion agreeing that a visit was ‘refreshing and revitalising’ was at its highest in the most recent survey.
Dr Tim Hill, chief scientist at Natural England, said: “The MENE survey data is an invaluable resource to help us understand how the outdoors is being used, as well as the benefits people can derive from it and the value it has to them.
“We now have five years of data and it is clear that visits to the outdoors, whether it’s to a local green space, in one of our national parks, a walk on the 2,500 miles of national trails, to a national nature reserve or along a new section of England Coast Path are all playing an increasingly important role in providing health and exercise opportunities for millions of people each year.
“The latest report shows an encouraging trend for the increased use of the natural environment as a ‘green gym’. Visiting the natural environment for health or exercise accounted for an estimated 1.3 billion visits to the natural environment between March 2013 and February 2014.
“This is the highest number since we started gathering this data in 2009 and the proportion of people agreeing that an outdoors visit was refreshing and revitalising was also at its highest in the most recent survey year.
“The evidence from the MENE survey also provides us with useful information about the amount of money that people spend during a visit to the natural environment. In the latest survey people spent money on almost a quarter of the visits made between March 2013 and February 2014, resulting in an estimated spend of £17bn.”
The full MENE report can be seen on the UK Government’s website.