The coronavirus crisis has driven a surge in outdoor activity in Britain as people have taken to green spaces and reconnected with nature, but those working from home have benefited significantly more, a report reveals.
More than three-quarters of home workers left the house to exercise during the first lockdown, compared with only half of those still travelling for their job, the Office for National Statistics found. Those based at home were also 50% more likely to visit a park or local green space than those still required to commute, the statisticians said.
The ONS report – How Has Lockdown Changed Our Relationship with Nature? – explores how gardens and public green spaces became gyms and wildlife-watching spots fuelled by a soaring interest in the outdoors.
“Nature has been a source of solace for many, as lockdown rules have heightened our appreciation for local parks and green spaces,” the authors wrote, noting that the closer people were to parks, the more likely there were to visit during the first lockdown.
Beyond a rise in exercise, interest in nature surged last year with 36% of people telling a Natural England survey in May that the pandemic meant they were spending more time outside than before. By July, the figure had risen to 46%, the ONS report adds.
The trend continued into the summer last year, with Google mobility data revealing that visits to parks and public green spaces were up on previous years. Restrictions on travel and social contact led to a surge in camping holidays and sales of outdoor equipment, bicycles and campervans. Coastal and rural regions, from Cornwall and Devon to Norfolk and east Yorkshire, witnessed substantial rises in visitors.
But the report notes that not all outdoor spaces are equal. While the average park in the UK serves about 2,000 gente, más que 20 times that number count Clapham Common in south London as their nearest park. Analysis by the New Economics Foundation, included in the ONS report, found that one in eight people do not believe their local green space is worth spending time in.
Just as those more able to work from home benefited most from local parks, the ONS found that people on higher pay had more leisure time to exercise, spending twice as long keeping fit in April 2020, through exercise classes, running and team sports, as those on lower pay.
Whether the trends are temporary or herald a new way of life is unknown. Over the winter, the cold and dark forced people indoors and in front of the television, the report adds. But with 17% of businesses intending to move to homeworking permanently, the authors suggest plenty of people may have the chance to indulge the outdoors and leave cities for good. If businesses go ahead with their plans, it could drive an “influx” of working-age wealthier people to rural and coastal areas, the report concludes.
Dom Higgins, head of health and education at The Wildlife Trusts, dicho: “The natural world has provided an essential and welcome retreat from the stress and strangeness of the last year. Even the smallest pockets of green space – perhaps overlooked before – have been noticed again, offering solace and relief. There’s been a huge spike in people getting active outdoors too, though access to green space is something that is still imbalanced – especially for those living in more deprived areas.
“Spending time in nature can be transformational for our wellbeing, relationships, and mental health. It is so important that we make our towns, cities and landscapes wilder, for wildlife and the climate – and for ourselves too.”