Public spent £17bn on countryside visits

The general public made 2.5bn visits to England’s countryside and open spaces during 2010-11, spending more than £17bn in the process.

The figures were released by Natural England from its second year of findings in its Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment survey.

The survey which is also backed by the Forestry Commission and DEFRA sampled more than 46,000 people.

It showed farmland, mountain, hill, moorland and woodland increased in popularity as places to go when compared with the previous results for 2009-10.

But significant decreases in visits were recorded for urban parks and other open spaces in towns and cities which caused a 13% decrease in visits to open spaces overall.

Over half of those surveyed responded that they visited the natural environment at least once a week.

In addition to the main annual MENE survey, a parallel one-off survey looking at attitudes to the natural environment has also been published.

The attitude survey showed that the English adult population were generally positive about the current state of the natural environment, with only 15% regarding it as in a poor or terrible condition.

However, 42% believed that biodiversity had declined in the past 10 years and 64% believed that the natural environment would be in a slightly worse or much worse state in 50 years’ time.

There were 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.

Natural England chairman Poul Christensen hailed the survey as 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.”

Environment minister Richard Benyon added that the government was working hard to strengthen the connection people had 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.”