More than 3 billion visits were made to the English outdoors

More than 3 billion visits were made to the English outdoors

More people than ever are heading for the great outdoors in England.

Figures revealed today by the Government’s official advisers Natural England show 3 billion visits were made to the English outdoors over a 12-month period.

Almost half of those surveyed claim to have visited the natural environment the previous week when asked. The latest Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment results show enthusiasm for spending time outside relaxing and unwinding, watching wildlife, enjoying the scenery, or keeping healthy is the highest it’s been since records began.

It’s estimated that the 43 million adults living in England made a total of 3.12 billion visits to the outdoors between March 2014 and February 2015.

The report was produced for Natural England, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Forestry Commission and showed dog walking was the biggest motivator for engaging with the natural environment – 48 per cent of visits to the outdoors were to walk a dog.

Health and exercise followed closely behind, with 45 per cent citing this as the main reason they spent time in the natural environment. More than eight out of 10 people also agreed that being outdoors contributed to their health and wellbeing by making them feel ‘calm and relaxed’ and ‘refreshed and revitalised’.

Dr Tim Hill, Natural England’s chief scientist, said: “It’s fantastic that we now have six years of unique evidence underpinning our understanding of how people are using and valuing their natural environment – whether that’s their local park, the 2,500 miles of national trails, one of our national parks, a national nature reserve, or a section of England’s Coast Path.

“Together with evidence from previous MENE reports, this year’s data allows us to begin to understand the real economic value and social impact of the natural environment and our work. Our knowledge of how people use the outdoors means we can now look at where we best focus our efforts and why projects such as opening up greater access along the coast or increasing the amount of urban green space are so important.”

David Williamson, head of recreation and public affairs for Forestry Commission England, said: “This report firmly reminds us of the opportunities we have to help people to engage with the natural environment.

“Our work will continue in 2016 to help people access the public forest estate and benefit from their visits. We’ll have new family trails and opportunities to take part in more sporting activities, as well as continuing to develop our learning offer for schools and groups.”

Visitors to the outdoors felt 'refreshed and revitalised'

Visitors to the outdoors felt 'refreshed and revitalised'

Since it was first commissioned in March 2009, the MENE survey has provided baseline and trend data on how people use the natural environment in England. It is being used by conservationists, healthcare professionals and academics to support their work.

The survey has been designated as a national statistic by the UK Statistics Authority, the highest level of designation given to surveys collecting official statistics, and establishes MENE as a key official data source for understanding how people are using and engaging with the natural environment.

Data from MENE will now be used to produce two thematic reports which will look specifically at how people interact with the coastline and urban green spaces, and the impact they have on health and wellbeing. These reports – and the underpinning datasets – will be available early next year.

Environment minister Rory Stewart said: “I’m really proud of the work that has gone into this report and of the fact that it demonstrates again how much the British people love our landscape. We have the most beautiful country in the world, and we can only benefit from engaging more directly with our countryside.

“This is one of the reasons I am so pleased that ‎over the next five years, we will invest £3bn to protect our countryside, forests and national parks, safeguarding our natural environment for generations to come.”

The full MENE report can be seen on the UK Government website.

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