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Scotland survey finds more people are embracing the outdoors after the coronavirus Covid-19 lockdown

By Alan Hendry

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Kevin Lafferty, chief executive of Paths for All, said the survey results were 'hugely encouraging' and offered some very positive messages.
Kevin Lafferty, chief executive of Paths for All, said the survey results were 'hugely encouraging' and offered some very positive messages.

More people are embracing the wellbeing benefits of walking and spending time outdoors as a result of their experiences during Covid, research by Scotland's nature agency has confirmed.

Those who carried out the survey believe the impact of the pandemic has reset people’s views on how they can interact with nature and enjoy active lifestyles.

The research was commissioned by NatureScot in the aftermath of three waves of the virus. It looked at the behaviour of more than 3000 people who shared details of how they spent time outdoors as restrictions were relaxed.

The findings have been welcomed by the Scottish walking charity Paths for All.

Evidence gathered from respondents following the 2021 third wave found that 68 per cent of people agreed they would encourage their children to spend more time outdoors, 62 per cent would minimise non-essential travel and the same figure would make more use of green space locally.

The survey also found that almost two thirds (64 per cent) would aim to walk, wheel or cycle more often in favour of using a car, more than half would like to do more to look after local nature and wildlife, and more than a third (36 per cent) would be willing to volunteer time to help nature.

Kevin Lafferty, chief executive of Paths for All, said: “The negative impact of the wholly necessary Covid-related restrictions on our movements and our ability to get out and about caused great stress and anxiety for all age groups and social classes throughout Scotland.

“But this survey is hugely encouraging and offers some very positive messages on how people are more willing to incorporate walking and getting closer to nature in their post-lockdown lives.

“NatureScot has delivered an impressively comprehensive insight into what is motivating people to embrace nature more, be that on their urban doorsteps or by taking advantage of our vast array of rural landscapes.”

The research found that people are embracing nature more and enjoying the benefits of being outdoors.
The research found that people are embracing nature more and enjoying the benefits of being outdoors.

Seventy-three per cent of those questioned said spending time outdoors after wave three helped them to de-stress, relax and unwind, while 66 per cent stated that it made them feel energised and revitalised – an increase on both 2020 waves.

Fifty-eight per cent agreed that since the pandemic began nature had become more important to their health and wellbeing, up from 49 per cent in the first survey – although their enjoyment was curtailed by a number of issues.

Litter was a bugbear on visits to the outdoors for almost half of respondents (48 per cent), while nearly a third cited a lack of public toilets as a factor, followed by pavement cyclists (26 per cent) and cars parking on pavements (25 per cent).

The survey revealed a noticeable decrease in the number of adults who took no outdoor visits – down from 19 per cent in May 2020 to 10 per cent in the final period last September.

More than half of those surveyed said their outdoor activity after wave three consisted of walking under two miles, while 43 per cent walked between two and eight miles. Fifteen per cent said they walked more than eight miles, with a further 11 per cent taking part in hillwalking.

Mr Lafferty added: “Everyday walking is key to improving the health and wellbeing of the Scottish people so it is heartening to see such high numbers of people shaking off the restrictions of lockdown and getting out into the fresh air to walk and enjoy the abundance of nature all around us.

“The research indicates a marked drop in the number of people who latterly were not managing to get outdoors at all – probably due to vaccination uptake and rising confidence that Covid-19 is more controlled – and we hope those people have continued to enjoy all the benefits of the great outdoors.”

He added: “A third of us in Scotland are not active enough and walking is by far the best way for many of us to be more active.

“A brisk 30-minute walk five days a week can prevent illness, improve physical and mental health and improve our connections with our community and the environment.

“This report is important in understanding how Covid-19 impacted the daily habit of taking a walk that many of us take for granted, and hopefully one of the benefits to come out of this global health crisis is that more of us now have a stronger connection to the outdoors.”

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