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Are we getting out enough? Participation in outdoor recreation in Scotland

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Recent statistics suggest that the proportion of Scots regularly getting out and enjoying Scotland’s countryside and urban greenspaces has risen slightly compared to previous years. The latest figures from the Scottish Household Survey show that 48% of adults in Scotland reported visiting the outdoors for recreation or leisure purposes on at least a weekly basis in 2014, compared to 46% in 2013 and 42% in 2012. The ‘outdoors’ refers to open spaces in towns and cities, as well as the countryside and so includes all visits to places like parks, woodlands, farmland, beaches and riversides.

This is good news, as there is a wealth of evidence on the health and wellbeing benefits people get from engaging in outdoor physical activity, relaxing and enjoying contact with nature, and from positive social interactions in greenspace. Colleagues and I have been investigating these benefits in our work on the Green Health project, the RESAS Strategic Research Programme and other projects. Our research shows the importance of spending time outdoors – whether this is going for a walk during a lunch break, a visit to your local park, taking part in an organised health walk, or voluntary nature conservation work – for our overall wellbeing.

The reported increase in people’s use of the outdoors since 2012 is promising in that it hints that we are moving in the right direction. However looking back further to previous years’ data collected via the Scottish Recreation Survey, the long-term trend appears to be that the proportion of people making at least weekly visits has remained surprisingly stable, hovering around the 45% mark since 2006. Methodological differences between these two surveys mean that they are not directly comparable, however in 2012 when both surveys were run they produced very similar results. So why don’t more people get outdoors for recreation on a regular basis?

To understand the full picture of engagement with the outdoors we need to look not only at how many people are visiting the outdoors regularly, but also how many are not visiting at all, and how different groups in the population compare.

Overall the proportion of people who didn’t visit the outdoors at all in 2014 stayed stable at 16%, with a further 17% visiting at least once during the year but less often than once a month. With a third of us engaging with natural environments less than once a month there is clearly potential for promoting the benefits of outdoor recreation to the least engaged. Furthermore, the statistics show clear disparities in outdoor engagement between those living in deprived and affluent areas, and between age groups. For example, the recent figures show that people living in most deprived areas of Scotland were more than twice as likely to report making no visits to the outdoors in the past year, compared to people living in the least deprived areas. At the same time, whilst less than 10% of people aged between 25 and 44 reported no visits, this figure rose amongst the older age groups, with 21% of 60-74 year olds and 41% of over 75s reporting no visits to the outdoors.

Percentage reporting no visits to the outdoors in the past 12 months by age group (Scottish Household Survey 2014)

Looking to the future, one of the key challenges for us as researchers is to understand how to promote and facilitate access to the outdoors for all. How might we increase the proportion of people regularly spending time in Scotland’s outdoors? What sorts of initiatives and interventions might improve access to outdoor recreation for those groups who are presently least engaged with Scotland’s natural environments?

There is already much excellent work going on in Scotland which deserves to be celebrated. Paths for All work across the country to facilitate green exercise through initiatives such as Health Walks and Walking Football groups. The Central Scotland Green Network Trust is working to enhance access to high quality green environments in the Central Belt, particularly for disadvantaged communities. Organisations such as Forestry Commission Scotland, Cairngorms National Park Authority, are engaging with healthcare professionals in green prescription initiatives. Through the Green Exercise Partnership, various organisations are working towards mainstreaming green exercise in the healthcare sector. These initiatives encompass a diverse range of ideas and sectors, and also provide opportunities for researchers to identify insights for future initiatives. This makes it an exciting time to be researching this subject.

Our job as researchers in this area is to support the efforts of policymakers and practitioners by delivering high quality evidence that helps to build our understanding of the barriers to engagement that people face and how these might be overcome. In the coming months my SEGS colleagues Mags Currie, Kate Irvine, Patricia Melo and I will be conducting an in depth study of the barriers to outdoor recreation experienced by older adults. Future projects are likely to extend this work to focus on other target groups. Watch this space for updates on findings from our research!

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog post are the views of the author(s), and not an official position of the institute or funder.



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Printed from /blog/segs/outdoor-recreation-participation on 28/02/24 02:48:47 PM

The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.