Myth-busting: People make 3 billion visits to the English countryside every year
Err. No. They don’t.
This figure is used again and again, by official bodies, by journalists, and by other groups, but it is wrong. Just. Plain. Wrong.
Where does the 3 billion figure come from? It comes from the annual MENE surveys, which consistently show a figure of around 3 billion visits a year to outdoor spaces across England.
MENE stands for: Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment, and is conducted by Natural England. The annual MENE survey interviews around 40-50,000 people a year, in order to understand how people make use of the “natural environment”.
The “natural environment” includes open spaces in towns, cities, and seaside resorts, as well as the countryside. It also includes a variety of activities, not just walking, such as cycling, swimming, horse-riding, fishing, picnicking, etc.
The results of the survey are published in a number of ways. An overview of the results for 2015-16 are available as a headline summary. The latest report with a full analysis is the report from the 2013-2014 survey
What is the true figure for visits to the English countryside?
More than half of all visits to the “natural environment” take place within cities or towns. This includes people walking in local parks and gardens. The surveys show that only 1.3 billion visits are actual countryside visits.
How many visits involved long walks in the English countryside?
We don’t know for sure. But, from the 2013-14 survey, we do know that 3/4 of visits lasted less than two hours and the majority of people in the survey (80%) didn’t travel more than 2 miles from their base. We also know many visits were to local attractions, stately homes, village pubs, etc. So, when it comes to true countryside walking, we can probably whittle the statistic of 3 billion visits down to far more sensible number.
It is likely that only 20% of 1.3 billion visits involve long-distance walks through the countryside. A figure of around 260 million.
Are you absolutely sure there aren’t 3 billion visits?
You are right to be suspicious. Anybody can manipulate statistics to suit their own particular message. It’s wise to check the figures for yourself.
You can find out more about MENE here: Monitor Engagement with the Natural Environment: Annual report from the 2013-2014 survey.
Read the interim findings from 2015-2016 survey here as a PDF download: Headline Report from the 2015-1016 survey.
Read the detailed report from 2013-2014 as a PDF download from Natural England: Annual Report from the 2013-14 survey.
Here are the headline facts and figures from the 2013-2014 report
- Around nine in ten members of the English adult population visited the outdoors at least once in the last twelve months, while around two-fifths had taken a visit within the last seven days.
- It is estimated that between March 2013 and February 2014, the 42.3 million adults resident in England took a total of 2.93 billion visits to the natural environment. The majority were taken to destinations within towns/cities (1.36 billion) or countryside locations (1.31 billion).
- Around a quarter of visits involved some form of expenditure – resulting in an estimated spend of £17 billion between March 2013 and February 2014.
- Parks in towns and cities were the most frequently visited destination type, accounting for 778 million visits.
- Walking was by far the most frequently undertaken activity. Half of visits (an estimated 1.5 billion visits) involved walking with a dog while around a quarter (an estimated 775 million visits) involved walking without a dog.
- Three-quarters of visits were less than two hours in duration, while two-thirds involved walking to the visit destination. Almost four-fifths were taken within two miles of the visit start point.
- Visiting the natural environment for health or exercise accounted for an estimated 1.3 billion visits to the natural environment between March 2013 and February 2014. Factors relating to a lack of time were most likely to be cited as reasons for not visiting more often or at all.
We hope that makes it clear. The figure of 3 billion visits to the countryside in England every year is a MYTH.
As well as reading the 2013-2014 report in full, you can do your own cross-tabulation analysis if you want to dig deeper, using the Cross-Tab Viewer on the Natural England site.