Visits to the great outdoors reach record high, survey reveals

2 Dec 2015 01:26 PM

A record 3 billion visits were made to England’s great outdoors between March 2014 and February 2015, showing interest in our natural environment is on the rise.

The latest Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment (MENE) survey results show our 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.

In total, 44 per cent of the population claimed to have made at least one visit to the natural environment in the previous week, and between March 2014 and February 2015, it’s estimated that the 43 million adults living in England made a total of 3.12 billion visits to the outdoors.

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 8 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’.

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 £3 billion to protect our countryside, forests and National Parks, safeguarding our natural environment for generations to come.

Dr Tim Hill, Natural England’s Chief Scientist, said:

It’s fantastic that we now have 6 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, commented:

This report firmly reminds us of the opportunities we have to help people to engage with the natural environment. With half the population in England living within 6 miles of a Forestry Commission wood or forest, our sites offer fantastic opportunities to start a life-long love of the great outdoors.

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.

The MENE survey is undertaken by TNS on behalf of Natural England, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Forestry Commission.

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

Towards the end of last year, the survey was designated as a National Statistic by the UK Statistics Authority. This is the highest level of designation given to surveys collecting Official Statistics, and establishesMENE 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 2 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.

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Set up in 2009, the MENE survey was first commissioned by Natural England, Defra and the Forestry Commission to provide baseline and trend data on how people use the natural environment in England. The survey work is undertaken by TNS.

The sixth MENE annual report gathered data between March 2014 and February 2015. During the 2014 to 2015 survey period, 45,225 interviews were undertaken allowing the key details of 55,573 visits to be collected, and more detailed information from 18,658 visits to be gathered.

The survey examines the type of destinations visited, the duration of visits, transport used during visits, the distance travelled, average amounts spent, main activities undertaken, and motivations for visiting. It collects data about people who do not visit the natural environment as well, and the reasons for this. The survey also compiles information about how people interact with nature in other ways, such as watching wildlife and volunteering. The survey is undertaken weekly across England and interviews around 47,000 people per year – giving valuable insights into how people enjoy the outdoors.

The MENE survey makes an important contribution to the evidence base informing Natural England’s ‘outdoor learning programme’ and its other access and engagement projects. Natural England publishes regular specialist MENE reports – often in partnership with relevant specialist organisations – researching the relationship between different sectors of society and the natural environment.

See the MENE page on GOV.UK to keep updated about forthcomingMENE publications.

The report includes a number of infographics about the data, which are also available separately.