The latest Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment (MENE) survey results, released today (2 December), show enthusiasm for spending time outside relaxing and unwinding, watching wildlife, enjoying the scenery, or keeping healthy is the highest it has been since records began.
The report was undertaken by TNS on behalf of Natural England, Defra and the Forestry Commission.
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, an estimated 43m adults living in England made a total of 3.12bn 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 eight out of ten people also agreed that being outdoors contributed to their health and wellbeing by making them feel "calm and relaxed" and "refreshed and revitalised".
The MENE survey was first commissioned in 2009, and last year was designated as a National Statistic by the UK Statistics Authority, making it a key official data source for researchers. 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.
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."