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Evidence for Outdoors Access

There is an increasing body of evidence to make the case for Outdoors Access. There are good reasons to get outside and explore - to get to know your local area, to have fun, but also to improve health, help the environment and help the economy in your local area.

To give an introduction, we have compiled a summary of some research and provided references. There's plenty more, and we'll try to supliment this in the future. Our partners at Better by bike have got 'the Doctor' Adrian Davis to add to their body of evidence, so have a look there too.

1. Access to the outdoors, to the natural environment and to quality landscapes bring benefits to health, including physical and mental health, to local economies and to the environment.

2. Investment in walking and cycling measures is high value, and brings clear benefits: "The typical [Benefit] cost ratios [BCR] are many times greater than the threshold of 2:1 which is considered by the Department for Transport as ‘high’ value for money… Almost all of the studies identified report economic benefits of walking and cycling interventions which are highly significant. The median result for all data identified is 13:1 and for UK data alone the median figure is higher, at 19:1"
• Davis, A (2010) Value for Money: An Economic Assessment of Investment in Walking and Cycling. Department for Health.

3. There are clear economic benefits gained from access to the outdoors: "in 2010/11 alone, nearly 2.5 billion visits were made to England’s countryside and open spaces, during the course of which visitors generated over £17 billion in expenditure. Over half those surveyed responded that they visit the natural environment at least once a week."
• Wayman, E. (June 2011) Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment: The national survey on people and the natural environment, Annual Report from the 2010-11 survey. Natural England & Forestry Commission.

4. There are local reductions in NHS costs through walking and cycling interventions. One walker, cyclist or horse rider whose increased health and fitness leads to one less heart bypass operation, saves the NHS approximately £6324.

5. There are clear positive health impacts of exposure to the natural environment: "Nature and green space can be seen as a great outpatient department whose therapeutic value is yet to be fully realised."
• Bird, W (2004) Natural Fit and Natural Thinking, the evidence to date. RSPB.

"Outdoor activities, particularly walking, offer a cheap and accessible route to better health for all, and address many of today’s pressing public health issues. The continued use of green space for physical activity is strongly linked to the quality of the landscape – in terms of beauty, diversity, and contact with nature"
• Bird, W (2006) Investigating the links between the Natural Environment, Biodiversity and Mental Health, RSPB and Natural England

6. The natural environment and access to it provides important venues for families with young children and teenagers to experience and enjoy the outdoors.
"Natural spaces have a clear and important role to play in providing teenagers with the opportunities needed for their healthy physical, psychological and social development"
• Hanna, J et al (May 2010) Wild Adventure Space: its role in teenagers’ lives, Natural England

7. There is clear evidence in terms of the cost to poor health to the economy: "The estimated direct cost of physical inactivity to the NHS across the UK is £1.06 billion… There are clear and significant health inequalities in relation to physical inactivity according to income, gender, age, ethnicity and disability."
• Burns, H; Davies, S; Jewell, T; and McBride, M, (July 2011) Start active, stay active: a report on physical activity from the four home countries' Chief Medical Officers, Department of Health, Physical Activity, Health Improvement and Protection.

8. Access to land near to where people live can deliver other policy objectives: "Improving the availability of good quality open and green spaces across the social gradient… Much of what we recommend for reducing health inequalities – active travel (for example walking or cycling), public transport, energy-efficient houses, availability of green space, healthy eating, reduced carbon-based pollution – will also benefit the sustainability agenda."
• Marmot, M et al, (February 2010) The Marmot Review: Fair Society, Healthy Lives. Strategic Review of Health Inequalities in England. At:

9. Investments in cycling and mountain biking facilities have been shown to attract significant numbers of people to exercise in the outdoors, often to those groups of people (such as young people) who typically do not access the countryside for physical activity. Models for providing access to Green Infrastructure, such as the excellent mountain biking facilities provided at Ashton Court and Leigh Woods near Bristol could be adopted to provide high quality facilities for other users such as walkers and equestrians.
• Katherine King (December 2010) Lifestyle, identity and young people’s experiences of mountain biking, Forestry Commission Research Note. Forestry Commission.

10. Public paths are venues that programmes of organised events including walking for health depend upon. These programmes are proven to tackle health inequality.
• Davies, A. (January 2009) Essential Evidence on a page - No. 6: Walking to health, at: Essential Evidence for Walking and Cycling at:

Compiled by Chris Hogg. 16th December 2012.

Added 20th June 2013:

Would you be happier living in a greener urban area?

This study draws on 18 years of panel data from over 10,000 participants to explore the self-reported psychological health of individuals over time and the relationship between urban green space, wellbeing and mental distress. Findings show that urban green space can deliver significant benefits for mental wellbeing.

• Mathew P. White, Ian Alcock, Benedict W. Wheeler and Michael H. Depledge, "Would You Be Happier Living in a Greener Urban Area?, A Fixed-Effects Analysis of Panel Data", Psychological Science, published online 23 April 2013 at:

Added 24th May 2013:

"No time for physical activity? The answer's on your doorstep, says NICE"

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, responsible for developing guidance and quality standards in social care, published guidance stating the importance of increasing walking and cycling:

"Walking and cycling should become the norm for short journeys and should be encouraged throughout local communities says NICE, in new guidance published [28 November 2012]. Local authorities, schools and workplaces should introduce ways to enable their communities to be more physically active and change their behaviours.

Regular physical activity is crucial to achieving and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. It can help to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes by up to 50%, and is also important for good mental health.

At present, we are not active enough as a nation - around two-thirds (61%) of men and nearly three-quarters (71%) of women aged 16 and over are not physically active enough. Just over half of boys aged two to 10 years old and a third of girls in the same age group achieve the recommended level of daily physical activity. Physical inactivity is the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality (accounting for 6% of deaths globally).

Walking is the most common recreational and sporting activity undertaken by adults in Britain, with cycling the fourth most common. The majority (85.8%) of adults claim that they can ride a bicycle, yet the average time spent travelling on foot or by bicycle has decreased; from 12.9 minutes per day in 1995/97 to 11 minutes per day in 2007. Cycle use is lower in Britain than it is in other European Union countries; bicycles are used in around 2% of journeys in Britain compared with about 26% of journeys in the Netherlands, 19% in Denmark and 5% in France.

This is the first time that NICE has published guidance for organisations and institutions, such as schools, workplaces and local authorities that have a responsibility or influence over local communities, to encourage them to promote physical activity specifically through walking and cycling. NICE recommends coordinated action to identify and address the barriers that may be discouraging people from walking and cycling more often or at all."

More information, and supporting evidence in the full report:

Lake, Alison et al (November 2012) "Walking and cycling: local measures to promote walking and cycling as forms of travel or recreation" Public health guidance, PH41, at: