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19 December, 2014

Scotland’s outdoor habits revealed

The number of people visiting the outdoors for recreation has gone up, with the estimated number of visits at its highest in recent years, according to a report published today (19 December) by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).

In the first year of Scotland’s People and Nature Survey, carried out between March 2013 and February 2014, 12,000 adults were asked how they use and enjoy the natural environment.

Results show that around four-fifths (82%) of people in Scotland had visited the outdoors for recreation in the 12 months before they were interviewed, up from 79% in a comparable survey in 2012. The estimated number of visits was 395.8 million, the highest annual figure recorded since 2006.

The most frequently cited reasons for spending time outdoors were health or exercise and walking the dog. Around a quarter of visits were taken to relax and unwind or enjoy fresh air or pleasant weather. Walking continues to be the most popular outdoor activity followed by family outings.

Half of all outdoor visits were spent in the countryside, around a third in a town or city and the rest by the seaside. Around three-quarters of people living in towns and cities (2.4 million people) made at least one visit to a local green space in the previous 12 months, with almost half visiting weekly. Top of the list of places to visit are local parks or open spaces and just under a quarter of visits included a forest or woodland. Around half of those surveyed believed that they had visited one or both of Scotland’s national parks in the last 12 months.

Aside from visiting the outdoors for recreation, the vast majority of people (91%) take part in other nature activities on at least an occasional basis. Sitting or relaxing in the garden, walking through local parks and green spaces, watching or listening to nature programmes on TV or radio and gardening were the most popular.

Sixty-four per cent of those surveyed agreed strongly with the statement ‘Spending time outdoors is an important part of my life’, increasing to 81% among those who visited the outdoors on a weekly basis and to 91% among those who visited daily. Overall, 70% of adults strongly agreed that their most recent outdoor visit helped them to relax and unwind while 64% strongly agreed that it improved their physical health and 62% that it made them feel energised and revitalised.

Other findings showed that the vast majority of people in Scotland believe the country’s areas of wild land should be protected (94%). Linked to this is a widely held belief that Scotland’s landscapes make an important contribution to the economy.

Pete Rawcliffe, SNH’s people and places unit manager said: “The results of this survey are fascinating and will help steer our work. It’s great to see that more people are getting out and about more and taking advantage of Scotland’s natural heath service. Being active outdoors is not only enjoyable, but it also can help you feel better. Overall there’s a continuing trend for people to make shorter visits closer to home but it was interesting to see that lack of time and poor health were the most frequently cited reasons for not visiting the outdoors. This shows how important it is for us and other organisations to provide more opportunities for people to enjoy nature on their doorsteps.”

The Scotland’s People and Nature Survey (SPANS) was commissioned in 2013 by Scottish Natural Heritage with support from Forestry Commission Scotland, Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park Authority, Cairngorms National Park Authority and greenspace scotland. It will be repeated in 2016 and every third year after until 2022.


For media enquiries contact Nancy Fraser, SNH media & public relations officer on 0141 951 0809 / 0141 951 4488 or

Notes to editors

An online copy of the report is available at

The accompanying technical report is available at

Scotland’s People and Nature Survey (SPANS) included questions on participation in outdoor recreation; visits to forests and woodland; visits to urban green spaces; awareness of, and visits to Scotland’s national parks; other types of involvement with the natural environment and public perceptions of national and local landscapes and of the benefits of visiting the outdoors.

It is a single, comprehensive source of information on people’s use of the natural environment. Reflecting the interests of the SPANS partners, it absorbed questions from a number of surveys, including the Scottish Recreation Survey (commissioned by SNH and Forestry Commission Scotland), the Scottish Nature Omnibus (commissioned by SNH), the Public Opinion of Forestry (commissioned by Forestry Commission Scotland) and the Greenspace Use and Attitudes survey (commissioned by greenspace scotland) and provides links across a number of key policy areas. It was also designed to complement outputs on visits to the outdoors, volunteering, use of greenspace, rating of local neighbourhoods and participation in physical activity from Scottish Government surveys such as the Scottish Household Survey and the Scottish Health Survey.

Contact information

SNH Media

NatureScot is Scotland's nature agency. We work to enhance our natural environment in Scotland and inspire everyone to care more about it. Our priority is a nature-rich future for Scotland and an effective response to the climate emergency. For more information, visit our website at or follow us on Twitter at

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