Non-profit organisation, Outdoor Recreation Northern Ireland, shared key insights with politicians and policymakers during an event at Stormont last week. These were gleaned from comprehensive data sourced from the People in the Outdoors Monitor for Northern Ireland (POMNI) survey and the GreenspaceNI map.
Grant aid investment provided by the Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA), Sport NI, and the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) to support the work of the Strategic Outdoor Recreation Group (SORG) has enabled these powerful data tools.
The tools give an important insight into and provide evidence and data on how people engage with the outdoors, how they benefit from it, and the barriers that they face trying to access it.
The POMNI population-wide survey, which was undertaken during the pandemic, indicates that 7 out of 10 adults visit Northern Ireland’s outdoors for recreation each week.
78 per cent of those surveyed said that getting outdoors was good for their mental health and wellbeing, whilst 67 per cent said that it’s good for their health and fitness.
57 per cent of people surveyed said that being active outdoors was great for making social connections, and 41 per cent said that connecting with nature was a key motivator for getting out and about.
However, the data reveals that access to quality greenspace is not equal across the population and that some members of the public are not able to easily access these areas due to factors like proximity. This is particularly the case for people from areas of higher deprivation, people with a disability, and those living in rural areas. For example, the GreenspaceNI maps shows that only 10 per cent of households in rural areas (settlements with less than 5000 people) are located within 400m of greenspace.
In attendance was the DAERA Permanent Secretary, Katrina Godfrey, who said:
“Connecting people with their local natural environment has obvious benefits for their health and wellbeing, but it is also crucial for a thriving planet as we seek to turn the tide on climate change and biodiversity loss. Research shows that when people are more connected to nature, they will take much better care of it.
She continued: “Proximity to green spaces and off-road trails leads to an increase in their use. DAERA has started monitoring the number of households within 400m walk of greenspace in the annual NI Environmental Statistics Report. We hope to see this number increasing each year but achieving this will need all public bodies, community groups, business and landowners to work together to make this happen on the ground.”
Former Health Minister, Robin Swann MLA, who sponsored the event remarked:
“I am delighted to see insights from the POMNI survey and the new GreenspaceNI map. Outdoor recreation is incredibly beneficial to the health and wellbeing of our people. Walking especially is great – it’s inclusive, accessible and a low-cost and low-risk form of exercise and we are fortunate in NI to have such wonderful greenspace.
“I am keen to champion the benefits of being active in nature – while you can walk on a treadmill to reap the physical rewards – for maximum health benefits, we should be getting people active outdoors.”
Dawson Stelfox MBE, Chairperson of Outdoor Recreation NI, commented,
“We’re delighted to share these evidence-based insights. As an organisation that has championed outdoor recreation for nearly three decades, it’s encouraging to seeing growing support for connecting people to the outdoors.
“We want to help eradicate the barriers to enjoying our great outdoors and solutions include Council-led Community Trail Plans that identify and deliver trails in greenspaces across the country. It will also involve a more cross-departmental and cross-party approach to outdoor recreation going forward.
“This could take the form of an Outdoor Recreation Strategy, a Agri-scheme for Land Access, and an Outdoor Recreation Bill. As a first step we hope that the 400m proximity target will be included within the Environment Strategy and a future Programme for Government.
“Seeing the support at the event shows that our objectives are possible and we look forward to working with all stakeholders on these going forward.”
To find out more about Outdoor Recreation NI, visit: www.outdoorrecreationni.com