Health and exercise were important reasons for heading to the outdoors. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Health and exercise were important reasons for heading to the outdoors. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

More people are spending time in England’s great outdoors, a survey found.

A desire to exercise and look after their health was behind many people’s visits to the countryside, Natural England said.

The Government’s advisory body on the outdoors said its monitoring of engagement with the natural environment report indicated an increase of eight per cent in the number of visits over the past eight years.

Sixty-two per cent of people in England now visit the natural environment at least once a week. More than half of these visits were for health and exercise in 2017-18.

A large increase, from 38 per cent to 51 per cent, was recorded in the number of people from England’s most deprived areas since 2009-10.

In the most recent survey, 86 per cent of people said they were concerned about damage to the natural environment. Choosing to walk instead of taking the car is on the up – reported by 48 per cent of people in 2017-18 compared with 40 per cent in 2009-10.

Despite high levels of concern, only a third of people think they are likely to make future lifestyle changes to protect the environment.

Only five per cent of respondents said they volunteered for environment or conservation causes, a figure which is unchanged over the past nine years.

Local green spaces were seen as important to a significant proportion of respondents.

The MENE survey is funded by Natural England, with support from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

The MENE survey was first commissioned in 2009 to provide evidence relating to outdoor recreation, behaviour and attitudes. Natural England said it is the biggest long-running survey of its kind in the world, allowing the agency to track changes over time and provide an insight into how people use and relate to the natural environment.

Rose O’Neill, principal specialist for people and the environment at Natural England, said: “Over the last nine years there has been a real change in how people think about and experience the natural world.

“It is great that more people than ever before, from across all sections of society, are spending increasing amounts of time enjoying the natural environment.

“Research has also shown that one of the main motivations for people engaging with the natural environment is the benefits to health and wellbeing, underlining the important role of nature in everyday lives.”

The Westminster Government’s 25-year environment plan aims to connect more people with the environment to improve health and wellbeing and encourage them to take action to improve the natural world.

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

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