More people recognise the wellbeing benefits of walking are encouraged to spend more time outdoors due to their experiences during the Covid-19 pandemic according to new findings.
The research was commissioned by natural heritage body NatureScot in the aftermath of three waves of the Coronavirus crisis to better understand outdoor visit behaviour and how people engaged with nature.
The survey looked at the behaviour of more than 3,000 people who revealed details of how they spent time outdoors as coronavirus restrictions relaxed.
The survey found that people will encourage their children to spend more time outdoors, make more use of local green space, and try to walk more, have been welcomed by Scottish walking charity Paths for All who, along with other partners, supported these 3 studies.
Evidence gathered from respondents following the 2021 third wave found that 68% of people agreed they will encourage their children to spend more time outdoors, 62% will minimise non-essential travel and the same figure will make more use of local greenspace.
The survey also found almost two-thirds (64%) of people will try to walk, wheel or cycle more in favour of using a car, more than half would like to do more to look after local nature and wildlife, while more than one-third (36%) would be willing to volunteer time to help nature.
Kevin Lafferty, chief executive of Paths for All – which champions everyday walking to create happier and healthier lives – welcomed the survey and believes the impact of the pandemic has reset people’s views on how they can interact with nature and enjoy more active lifestyles.
He said: “The negative impact of the wholly necessary Covid-related restrictions on our movements and ability to get out and about cannot be underestimated and it caused great stress and anxiety for all age groups and social classes living 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.”
Seventy three percent of those questioned said spending time outdoors after Wave 3 helped them to destress, relax and unwind, while 66% stated that it made them feel energised and revitalised – an increase on both 2020 waves.
Almost three in five (58%) agreed that since the pandemic began nature had become more important to their health and wellbeing, up from 49% in the first survey – but their enjoyment was curtailed by a number of issues.
Litter was a bugbear on visits to the outdoors for almost half of respondents (48%), while nearly one-third cited a lack of public toilet facilities as a factor, followed by pavement cyclists (26%) and cars parking on pavements (25%).
Frequency of participation in outdoor visits remained high during all three waves – between 71-80% – and the survey revealed a marked decrease in the number of adults who took no outdoor visits – down from 19% in May 2020 to only 10% in the final period last September.
More than half of those surveyed said their outdoor activity after Wave 3 consisted of walking under two miles, 43% walked between two and eight miles, a healthy 15% said they walked more than eight miles, with a further 11% taking part in hillwalking.
Kevin 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.”
More than one-third (37%) of respondents reported taking more visits to the outdoors after Wave 3 than pre-pandemic. The key reasons given for the increase were a “pent up demand” following the easing of lockdown restrictions, increased levels of appreciation of the outdoors acquired during the pandemic, seeking to get fit or exercise, and having increased amounts of free time.
However, those who spent less time outdoors during this period, put it down to continued adherence to rules, general health or old age issues and/or continued nervousness about going outside due to the risks of infection or transmission.
Kevin 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.”