Revealed: Outdoor Recreation: People, Nature and Health Survey Results

2nd March 2021


New research reveals the health benefits of the outdoors are not being enjoyed equally across society with recent COVID-19 lockdown exacerbating long standing issues.  

Northern Ireland’s outdoors has provided great solace to many during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the benefits of being active in nature are not enjoyed equally with frequency of participation in outdoor recreation activities decreasing as levels of deprivation increase.

The new research report ‘Outdoor Recreation: People, Nature and Health’ developed by Outdoor Recreation Northern Ireland and part funded by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs will be revealed today at ORNI’s ‘Happy and Healthy Communities: The impact and value of being active outdoors’ online conference.

The findings highlight the clear link between enjoying outdoor spaces and good mental and physical health with 73% of respondents stating the primary motivation for visiting the outdoors was ‘to get some exercise’ and/or ‘for health and fitness’. In addition, 65% felt calm and relaxed and 32% felt closer to nature following visits to the outdoors.

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.

During November and December 2020, 37% of NI’s population took no visits to the outdoors. The COVID-19 pandemic played a big role with 44% reporting decreased participation compared to the same months in 2019, largely due to a desire to follow lockdown rules and worries about catching or spreading the virus.

The pandemic, however, is not the only barrier to people getting outdoors – there are longstanding issues that inhibit certain demographic groups visiting the natural environment, including people in less affluent areas, those with no car and people with disabilities. Also, nearly 1 in 3 state they do not have greenspace with easy walking distance of their home and this sentiment is higher for residents of rural areas and deprived areas, and amongst women and disabled people.

Commenting on the research and the launch of Outdoor Recreation NI’s Strategic Plan, Dawson Stelfox MBE, Chair of Outdoor Recreation NI stated;

“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.”

He continued;

“To maximise the benefits of engaging with the outdoors, we need to ensure 90% of the population are within a 5-minute walk of quality green / blue space. This is a key target for Outdoor Recreation Northern Ireland and we are calling upon the Northern Ireland Executive to incorporate this within the forthcoming Programme for Government.”

Download Outdoor Recreation – People, Nature and Health (March 2021) – Summary 

Download Outdoor Recreation – Population Survey (March 2021) 

Download Outdoor Recreation Northern Ireland Strategic Plan 2020-2025