England’s adult population made 2.93 billion visits to the outdoors between March 2013 and February 2014, according to a survey from the Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment.
The numbers are the highest in five years. The survey – now in its sixth year – provides organisations ranging from local councils to the Forestry Commission with information about how people use the environment, according to Tim Hill, chief scientist at Natural England.
‘We use face-to-face interviews in people’s homes with a survey company,’ says Hill. ‘What we’re trying to find out is how people use the natural environment and what the barriers there are to access.’ Visits to the natural environment have been relatively stable for the last five years, according to Hill.
This year’s report says 58 per cent of the English population made at least one leisure visit to the outdoors between March 2013 and February 2014. ‘We don’t know exactly why people are visiting the outdoors in greater numbers compared to previous years,’ says Hill. ‘Health benefits from outdoor exercise probably play a role. It’s not much of a surprise, but 50 per cent of all visits were to walk a dog.’ Visits to local parks account for most trips to the outdoors, according to the survey.
Whatever the motivation, people are spending money in the outdoors. A quarter of the population spent an estimated £17 billion on visits to the outdoors during the survey period.
‘The information from the survey will be used for the Government’s Biodiversity 2020 strategy for England’s wildlife,’ says Hill. All the survey data will also be made available for the public and for research organisations to explore.