News story

Survey reveals importance of outdoor visits in England

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The fifth year of findings from the definitive survey of the way people enjoy the great English outdoors have been published.

The annual report from the Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment (MENE) survey, the national survey on people and the natural environment, reveals that the English adult population made approximately 2.93 billion visits to natural environments between March 2013 to February 2014 – the highest number for 5 years.

The report also provides the latest evidence that over the last 5 years our enthusiasm for spending time outdoors relaxing and unwinding, watching wildlife and enjoying the scenery as a way to keep healthy has markedly increased.

The annual report from the latest MENE survey contains detailed analysis of visits made to the outdoors by the English adult population. The report includes information on:

  • where we visit
  • what we do when we’re out there
  • who is spending money while visiting the natural environment and what are they spending it on
  • how does our experience of the natural environment influence our attitudes and general wellbeing

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

Since the first MENE annual report was published in 2010, the proportion of people taking at least one visit to the outdoors in the previous week for health and exercise has increased significantly from 34% in 2009 to 2010, to 45% in 2013 to 2014.

Other findings from the fifth annual report include:

  • between March 2013 and February 2014, it is estimated that the 42.3 million adults resident in England took a total of 2.93 billion visits to the natural environment
  • around a quarter of visits involved some form of expenditure – resulting in an estimated spend of £17 billion; around 54 pence in every pound was spent on food and drink, 14 pence on fuel, 9 pence on admission fees, and 6 pence on gifts and souvenirs
  • visiting the natural environment for health or exercise accounted for an estimated 1.3 billion visits to the natural environment between March 2013 to February 2014
  • respondents to the survey consistently agreed that being outdoors made them feel ‘calm and relaxed’ and the proportion agreeing that a visit was ‘refreshing and revitalising’ was at its highest in the most recent survey
  • people who visited natural environments several times a day, every day, or several times a week rated themselves as having greater life satisfaction, more self-worth, more happiness and less anxiety than less regular visitors
  • walking was by far the most frequently undertaken activity; almost half of visits were taken to walk a dog
  • three-quarters of visits were less than 2 hours in duration, while two-thirds involved walking to the visit destination and almost four-fifths were taken within 2 miles of the visit start point
  • 96% of people ‘agree’ or ‘strongly agree’ that having green spaces close to where they live is important
  • factors relating to lack of time were most likely to be cited as reasons for not visiting the natural environment more often or at all

The survey found that 58% of the population make one leisure visit or more to the outdoors every week and the latest survey report suggests that green spaces near home are an increasingly important part of modern life. There has been an increase in outdoor recreation visits to towns and cities – currently just under half of outdoor recreation visits were taken to a destination within a town or city compared to two-fifths in 2010 to 2011. Visits tend to be taken close to where people live, with two-thirds within 2 miles of home.

A copy of the fifth MENE report can be downloaded from the Natural England publications catalogue.

Since it was first commissioned by Natural England, Defra and the Forestry Commission 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 is being used by conservationists, healthcare professionals and academics to support their work. The evidence from MENE is being used by Public Health England to help local authorities identify priorities for greening their communities which will, in turn, improve people’s health and wellbeing.

An interactive search tool allows detailed analysis of the MENE dataset at the England, regional and county level for each of the survey years. The innovative use of infographics throughout the report helps make the data easily accessible.

In 2014, the MENE 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 establishes MENE as an official data source for understanding how people are using and engaging with the natural environment.

Background information

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 fifth MENE annual report gathered data between March 2013 to February 2014. During the survey period, 46,785 interviews were undertaken allowing the details of 55,897 visits to be collected, and more detailed information from 18,808 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 45,000 people each 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