Nearly half (47%) the population of Northern Ireland are spending more of their free time outdoors now, than they did this time last year and 51% expect to do more after lockdown. A recent survey* conducted by Outdoor Recreation Northern Ireland, has highlighted an unprecedented rise in the use of the outdoors during the COVID 19 lockdown. The survey of 1,487 people, undertaken earlier this month, highlights the importance of outdoor recreation for people’s health and wellbeing during this time.
Outdoor Recreation Northern Ireland conducted the online survey in response to the new social distancing measures encouraging the public stay at home, and only leave their homes once a day to exercise in their local area.
The findings highlight a clear link between enjoying outdoor spaces and good mental and physical health with 89% of respondents reporting that the time they spent outdoors during lockdown making them feel calm, relaxed, refreshed, and revitalised; 84% felt physically healthier/fitter; 79% felt closer to nature.
Whilst there has been a huge increase in the use of the outdoors reflected in the research findings, 44% of those surveyed reported having to walk on roads and roadside pavements due to a lack of off-road trails in their local area, posing a safety issue. The findings highlight the need for more local off-road trails in urban and rural areas to ensure the public can enjoy the outdoors safely and securely.
The survey also reveals some challenges, reflecting that the benefits of being outdoors are not being enjoyed equally by all. The research shows that of those people who have been enjoying access to the outdoors every day (63%), participation is lowest in the most deprived areas of Northern Ireland (41%).
Commenting on the findings of the survey, Dawson Stelfox MBE, Chair of Outdoor Recreation Northern Ireland commented;
“These are challenging times, and the Coronavirus and lockdown has given us all a huge wake-up call. We are delighted that the public are engaging more with their local spaces and places during this difficult time, a reflection of how important the outdoors is for us all. This survey highlights the clear appetite for the public to get outdoors from their own doorstep and reap the mental and physical health benefits of being outside.”
“The findings also highlight a clear need for more local off-road trails and support to encourage and empower those in deprived areas to participate in outdoor activity, such as walking. Moving forward we in Outdoor Recreation NI will certainly focus on building support to address this issue. It is evidently clear that things will never be the same again, and we will work to ensure that our Ministers and Departments are well informed of the public need in order to ensure our outdoors are more accessible and encouraging for the public to access and enjoy safely.”