Tuesday, 05 July 2011 14:22

Rural tourism 'worth billions'

Written by  Ruralcity Media
Rural tourism 'worth billions'

RURAL tourism contributed £17bn to the national economy in 2010/11, according to the latest figures.

Nearly 2.5bn visits were made to English countryside, coast and open spaces last year, the study reveals.

The findings were published by landscape agency Natural England with support from the Forestry Commission and Defra.

The Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment (MENE) survey sampled more than 46,000 people.

Over half those surveyed told researchers that they visited the countryside or natural environment at least once a week.

Environment Minister Richard Benyon said the survey showed the extent of people's passion for the world beyond their front door.

"Nature is a perfect antidote to the stress of our busy lives," he said.

MENE provides the most comprehensive dataset yet available on how the population of England uses and enjoys the natural environment.

Its evidence base helps government departments and local authorities evaluate policies on access to the countryside and green space.

Natural England chairman Poul Christensen said described the survey as a groundbreaking study in England.

"It reaches a huge number of people and that lets us build a really good picture of how people are using the outdoors."

The survey findings were used to help justify the approach taken in the government's recent Natural Environment White Paper.

Aside from its unprecedented sample size, MENE is unique in collecting reliable data on longer term trends in countryside usage.

By conducting the survey annually and asking a consistent set of questions each year, it is building up a picture of how leisure visits are changing over time.

Although only in its second year, analysis of the data reveals striking changes in the ways that different social groups engage with the natural environment.

Adults participated in 2.49bn visits to the natural environment in 2010/11 – a 13% decrease on the estimated 2.86 billion visits taken during 2009/10.

Within these figures, however, the number of visits taken to farmland, mountain, hill, moorland and woodland increased.

The most significant decreases in visits were recorded for urban parks and other open spaces in towns and cities.

Forestry Commission chairman Pam Warhurst, said: "More than 800,000 urban dwellers now have much easier access to woodlands close to them. ?

"?We will continue to make opportunities available for everybody, no matter where they live, so they can benefit from, and get involved with, their local greenspace."

From 6 July, MENE data will be published monthly via a short statistical release.

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