1 July 2011
• Definitive survey shows nearly 2.5bn visits were made to English countryside, coast and open spaces last year
• Visitors spending over £17 billion in 2010/11
Natural England, with support from the Forestry Commission and Defra, has published its second year of findings in the definitive survey of the way we visit and use the outdoors. The Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment (MENE) survey has been carried out in weekly “waves” over the last two years and its unprecedented scope is reflected in the number of people interviewed – in 2010/2011 over 46,000 people were sampled.
The results show that in 2010/11 alone, nearly 2.5 billion visits were made to England’s countryside and open spaces, during the course of which visitors generated over £17 billion in expenditure. Over half those surveyed responded that they visit the natural environment at least once a week.
Environment Minister Richard Benyon said: “Nature is a perfect antidote to the stress of our busy lives and this survey shows the extent of people’s passion for the world beyond their front door. “The Government is working hard to strengthen the connection people have with nature. In our recent Natural Environment White Paper we outlined how we intend to expand, improve and protect our valuable wildlife habitats – making us the first generation to leave the environment in a better condition than we found it.”
Natural England’s Chair, Poul Christensen said “This is a groundbreaking study in England. It reaches a huge number of people and that lets us build a really good picture of how people are using the outdoors. MENE is a fantastic tool that enables all those engaged at a national or a local level to assess the impact of policy and to make informed decisions in developing or promoting access to the natural environment.”
Pam Warhurst, Forestry Commission Chair said "We know how passionate millions of people are about visiting woodlands, from a leisurely stroll with their family to hurtling down specially designed mountain bike tracks. In recent years a big part of our work has been to open the opportunities for people in our towns and cities to visit woodlands. More than 800,000 urban dwellers now have much easier access to woodlands close to them. We will continue to make opportunities available for everybody, no matter where they live, so they can benefit from, and get involved with, their local greenspace. Our focus for International Year of Forests has been to get more people visiting and we even have an app for that!"
MENE provides the most comprehensive dataset yet available on how the population of England uses and enjoys the natural environment. Its evidence base helps a number of Government Departments and Local Authorities evaluate policies on access to the countryside and greenspace. The survey findings were used to help justify the approach taken in the recent Natural Environment White Paper to improve the quality and increase the value of the natural environment across England.
Aside from its unprecedented sample size, MENE is unique in collecting reliable data on longer term trends in countryside usage. By conducting the survey annually and asking a consistent set of questions each year, MENE is deliberately designed to build up a picture of how leisure visits to the outdoors are changing over time. Now in its second year, the MENE data can already be analysed to reveal year-on-year changes and the 2010/11 survey is revealing striking changes to the previous year and highlighting very real variation between the ways that different social groups use and engage with the natural environment. In particular:
The English adult population participated in an estimated 2.49 billion visits to the natural environment in 2010/11, but this represents a 13 per cent decrease on the estimated 2.86 billion visits taken during 2009/10.
Within these figures, however, the number of visits taken to farmland, mountain, hill, moorland and woodland increased, while the most significant decreases in visits were recorded for urban parks and other open spaces in towns and cities.
Forests and woodlands received 13 per cent of all visits, an increased share from 11 per cent in 2010.
Visits were lower during every month of the 2010/11 survey, compared to the same month in the previous year. The decrease in visit numbers was, however, not consistent across all population groups and the number of visits increased slightly amongst the most affluent socio-economic groups.
In addition to the main annual MENE survey, a parallel one-off survey looking at attitudes to the natural environment has also been published. Based on 2009/2010 data the Attitudes Survey shows that:
The English adult population are generally positive about the current state of the natural environment, with only 15% regarding it as in a “poor” or “terrible” condition. However, 42% believe that biodiversity has declined in the last ten years and 64% believe that the natural environment will be in a “slightly worse” or “much worse” state in 50 years’ time.
There are marked differences in the levels of concern about the state of the natural environment between different demographic groups and those who visit most frequently are generally more satisfied about its current condition.
In general, women are more concerned than men about the future prospects for the environment. When asked about issues like air pollution, climate change, built development, species decline and flooding, women tended to view these as more likely to occur over the next 50 years. They were almost twice as likely as men were to expect that half of the countryside will be built on by 2060 and that prolonged summer droughts will become the norm.
MENE surveys will continue to be produced during 2011/2012 and will help us interpret whether some year on year changes are establishing themselves as longer term trends and help identify areas for further research. From 6 July 2011 data will be published on a monthly basis via a short statistical release.
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Notes to Editors:
For further information contact:
Natural England – Lyndon Marquis, 0300 060 4236, firstname.lastname@example.org
Defra – Sean Armstrong, 020 7238 5334, Sean.Armstrong@defra.gsi.gov.uk
Forestry Commission – Stuart Burgess, 0117 372 1073, email@example.com
The report can be downloaded from the MENE page of the Natural England website.
The MENE survey was commissioned by Natural England, Defra and the Forestry Commission and is carried out by TNS Research international. Respondents were asked to think about occasions when they had spent time out of doors, which was defined as “open spaces in and around towns and cities, including parks, canals and nature areas; the coast and beaches; and the countryside - including farmland, woodland, hills and rivers”. A visit could be anything from a few minutes to all day, and could include time spent close to home or workplace, further afield or while on holiday in England. Respondents were asked to specifically discount routine shopping trips, or time spent in their own gardens, although a separate set of questions covered gardening. The data collected helps us to understand how people use, enjoy and are motivated to protect the Natural Environment and monitors changes in use and enjoyment of the natural environment over time at a range of different spatial scales and for key groups within the population.
How the data will be used
Robust evidence is needed to inform future investment strategies, to help bring private money into the natural environment sector, and to help service providers better tailor their offer to the needs of local communities and tourists. To that end, this survey provides the most comprehensive dataset yet available on people’s use and enjoyment of the natural environment. It includes information on visits to the natural environment (including short, close to home visits) as well as other ways of using and enjoying the natural environment such as watching wildlife and volunteering. Data from the survey has already been used by:
Wildlife Trust for Birmingham and the Black Country
Lee Valley Regional Park Authority
University of East Anglia
Canterbury Christ Church University
University of Plymouth
How the data is collected
The survey involves weekly waves of interviews, with respondents asked about visits in the 7 days preceding the interview. In each wave, interviews are undertaken with a representative sample of the English adult population with a sample of at least 800 achieved across 100 sample points. There are a core set of questions asked every week with supplementary questions asked on a monthly and quarterly basis.
From year 3 we will begin publishing data on a monthly basis via a short statistical release. The first releases will be on 6 July 2011 and will contain data collected during the period March - May 2011 and data will be published monthly thereafter. This will enable better compliance with the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007.
About Natural England
Natural England is the government’s independent adviser on the natural environment. Established in 2006 our work is focused on enhancing England’s wildlife and landscapes and maximising the benefits they bring to the public.
We establish and care for England’s main wildlife and geological sites, ensuring that over 4,000 National Nature Reserves and Sites of Special Scientific Interest are looked after and improved.
We work to ensure that England’s landscapes are effectively protected, designating England’s National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Marine Conservation Zones, and advising widely on their conservation.
We run Environmental Stewardship and other green farming schemes that deliver over £400 million a year to farmers and landowners, enabling them to enhance the natural environment across two thirds of England’s farmland.
We fund, manage, and provide scientific expertise for hundreds of conservation projects each year, improving the prospects for thousands of England’s species and habitats.
We promote access to the wider countryside, helping establish National Trails and coastal trails and ensuring that the public can enjoy and benefit from them.
For further information contact: Lyndon Marquis on 0300 060 4236, firstname.lastname@example.org out of hours 07970 098005. For more information about Natural England, please visit: www.naturalengland.org.uk