Ways need to be found to encourage young people, people with disabilities and black and ethnic minority communities to visit the countryside, according to the government.

The Countryside Agency, on behalf of DEFRA, has launched a public consultation which seeks to improve the diversity of people visiting rural areas.

Demographic profiles show that currently, countryside visitors are mostly aged between 35-54, with a relatively high income and the ability to travel by car.

Andrew Wood, Countryside Agency director, said: “There are millions of people up and down the country who are not currently enjoying the sense of freedom and the wide range of health benefits that visiting the countryside can bring – in either a deeply rural area or the green space closer to most people’s homes.

“While it is not our responsibility to make people visit the countryside, it is our job to ensure everyone is aware of what the outdoors can offer them and give people every opportunity to enjoy it.”

 The Outdoors for All consultation exercise extends until 30 September 2006.

Speaking at a conference to mark its launch, David Fursdon, president of the Country Land and Business Association, said that people had to remember that some people found the outdoors “boring, frightening and unwelcoming”.

Mr Fursdon said service providers had to make visting the counryside a fun experience and show, if they were offering tourist accomodation, that they were running a quality establishment.

“An increase in visitor numbers will only happen of more people want to come, It sounds obvious, but without work to make it desirable, safe and make the visitors confident in the quality of services, no amount of targets will work.”