CJS Focus on Recreation

logo: Outdoor Recreation NetworkPublished: 20 May 2019



In Association with: the Outdoor Recreation Network


logo: Scottish Natural HeritageOutdoors visits at a record high

By Aileen Armstrong, Policy and Advice Officer for research


People in Scotland enjoy some of the best outdoor access rights in the world and participation in outdoor recreation has never been more popular.  The latest estimates from Scotland’s People and Nature Survey show that adults in Scotland took 547 million outdoor visits in 2017/18, the highest volume recorded since the 2006 baseline year. 


Family walking at Dunardry near Crinan Argyll and Stirling area (Lorne Gill / SNH)

Family walking at Dunardry near Crinan Argyll and Stirling area

(Lorne Gill / SNH)

The personal benefits people gain from these visits are significant – 9 in 10 people, for example, report improvements to their physical and mental well-being as a result of spending some time outdoors.  But there are other, more wide-ranging benefits too.  Expenditure generated by outdoor visitors can make a significant contribution to the local economy (in 2012, the Scottish Recreation Survey estimated that visits to the outdoors generated around £2.6 billion in expenditure); more people walking and cycling can help address the issues associated with car dependency such as congestion, pollution and climate change; and enjoyment of the natural environment can also help create a sense of responsibility among outdoor visitors, encouraging more people to help look after this important resource.


Scotland’s People and Nature Survey (SPANS), commissioned by Scottish Nature Heritage (SNH), is a national-level population survey which monitors trends in how people in Scotland use, value and enjoy the natural environment.  The findings are based on in-home interviews undertaken over a 12 month period with a representative sample of around 12,000 adults in Scotland.  SPANS and its predecessor survey, the Scottish Recreation Survey, is one of the main sources of information used by SNH and its partners to inform policy, planning and communications around outdoor recreation – and to ensure that the benefits people experience from visiting the outdoors are shared as widely as possible across society.


Bar chart showing the benefits people derive from outdoor visits

 Source: SPANS 2017/18


So, what does the survey tell us about outdoor visitors and trends in outdoor recreation in Scotland?


Over the last few years we’ve seen a significant increase in participation in outdoor recreation.  More than half of adults in Scotland now visit the outdoors on a regular, weekly basis – that’s around 400,000 more people than in 2012. A steady growth over the last few years in the numbers of people participating in recreational walking is likely to be one of the main factors behind this increase.


Children walking at Maryhill Locks Forth and Clyde Canal Glasgow (© A Coombes Epicscotland / SNH)

Children walking at Maryhill Locks Forth and Clyde Canal Glasgow

(© A Coombes Epicscotland / SNH)

Over the longer-term, there’s also been an increase in the proportion of visits being taken close to home, suggesting that people are finding more opportunities to enjoy the nature on their doorstep.  As a result, most outdoor visits are now made entirely on foot, with a corresponding decrease in the proportion involving the use of a car.


Scotland’s natural environment provides a fantastic backdrop for a wide variety of outdoor activities, ranging from informal outings to more specialist pursuits like mountain-biking, hill-walking and water sports.  Many outdoor visits are of the ‘every day’ variety, for example, to get some exercise or to walk a dog, and going for a walk remains the most popular outdoor activity undertaken in Scotland (84% of visits), followed by family outings (9% of visits) and cycling (7% of visits).


Most outdoor visits are ‘repeat visits’ to familiar places and involve a variety of settings.  The countryside accounts for around half of all visits (49%) but as many as 40% of visits are now taken in town and cities, underlining the importance of providing good quality urban greenspace, paths and routes close to where people live. Local parks remain the most popular type of outdoor destination (42% of all visits), followed by woods and forests (21% of visits) and beaches (13% of visits).  Parks are a particularly important resource for people living in urban areas (52% of visits) and for people living in Scotland’s most deprived areas (62% of visits). 


logo: Scottish Outdoor Access Code

In 2005, the Land Reform (Scotland) Act gave people in Scotland

a legal right of access to the outdoors provided that they act

responsibly.  Access rights and responsibilities are set out in the

Scottish Outdoor Access Code.

In many wild or remote areas, people expect very little in the way of visitor facilities but elsewhere, well-planned and managed outdoor places close to where people live can help make the outdoors accessible to everyone.  In spite of recent increases in participation, some population groups remain under-represented in outdoor recreation.  These include older adults, less affluent individuals and those in poor health or with a long-term illness or disability – people who have much to gain from the personal benefits associated with visiting the outdoors.  Understanding and accommodating the needs of these groups will help ensure everyone can enjoy the benefits of connecting with nature.


Find out more at https://www.nature.scot/

Return to Article List

See this Focus in full (pdf)