Outdoor Recreation – People, Nature & Health – What next?

2nd March 2021

New research has highlighted the health benefits of the outdoors are not being enjoyed equally across society with recent lockdown exacerbating long standing issues.

Filling the research gap

Although the benefits of outdoor recreation are widely evidenced, until now there was no systematic population-wide research on how people in Northern Ireland engage with the natural environment, the benefits they gain from it, and the barriers they face trying to access it, and; how this aligns with current and future policy development and implementation. The data collected as part of the ‘Outdoor Recreation – People, Nature and Health’ research will help to address this information gap.

The research undertaken by Outscape was part funded by Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) to support the work of the cross-government Strategic Outdoor Recreation Group (SORG).

Key findings at a glance

The key findings are summarised below

In many ways the research confirms and quantifies many things we already knew – engaging responsibly with the outdoors is good for you, the environment and the economy.

However, it is also clear, we have more to do as the benefits of the outdoors are not being realised equally across society.

  • Nearly 1 in 3 state they do not have greenspace within easy walking distance of their home
  • There are longstanding issues which cause certain demographic groups to visit the outdoors less regularly than the national average. Inequalities exist for the unemployed, people with no car, those from the least affluent socio-economic groups and those with a disability.

It is clear however that these important benefits are not being realised equally by all, with only 50% of those from Northern Ireland’s most deprived areas visiting the outdoors at least once a week. This is in stark contrast to the national average of 70% and rising to 82% in the most affluent areas.

What Next?

Outscape has immediately responded to the research findings by framing our new strategic plan for 2020 – 2025 with a vision of ‘A more active and healthy society appreciating the outdoors’.  The strategic plan sets out our strategic objectives and the tangible actions on which we will focus our efforts.

The research provides a mandate for government departments, local authorities, and the outdoor recreation sector to work in partnership to increase access to, participation in, and connection with our wonderful green and blue spaces.

This research clearly shows the many benefits of outdoor recreation to Northern Ireland, its society and economy – and most importantly, the health and wellbeing of its people. To ensure that more of the population can avail of these benefits, targets must be placed in the PfG that monitor people’s access to, participation in, and connection with nature. This needs to be addressed in future government and local government strategies, policies, funding packages and delivery along with partners.