The lockdown measures put in place to slow the spread of Coronavirus have had a major impact on many aspects of our lives, including our visits to the outdoors and how we engage with nature.

To understand how these impacts have been experienced by different people, NatureScot (with support from Scottish Forestry, Cairngorms National Park Authority and Paths for All) commissioned a piece of on-line research at the end of May among a representative sample of just over 1,000 adults in Scotland.  The research findings provide a fascinating insight into the role of nature in people’s lives between 23 March and 28 May when the message was to stay at home, undertake only essential travel,  and limit outdoor visits for exercise to one per day and involving only other household members.

The research revealed varying levels of participation in outdoor visits during this time.  Compared to historical data from Scotland’s People and Nature Survey (SPANS), both daily and weekly participation levels were considerably higher than we’d normally expect to see at the time of year – but, at the same time, the proportion of people making no visits at all to the outdoors was also slightly higher than average.

Most people also changed the amount of time they spent outdoors, with 35% of the population spending more time outdoors (particularly women, younger people and families) and 43% spending less time outside (especially those aged 70 and over and those not in good health).

How and where people spent their outdoor time also changed. Over a third of the population (36%) increased the amount of time they spent taking short walks (under 2 miles) and similar proportions spent more time than usual visiting local parks and woods (33% and 31%, respectively) and using local pavements and paths (both 32%). Conversely, visits to more remote or rural places decreased as did visits involving off-road cycling, longer walks and hillwalking.

For many people, lockdown also provided more time and opportunity to notice and enjoy local nature with levels of participation in gardening, bird and wildlife watching, and other nature engagement activities significantly higher than usual, even among those who rarely or never left home to take part in outdoor exercise.

The survey also underlined just how important access to greenspace was to health and well-being during this ealy part of lockdown. While the pleasant spring weather encouraged many people to spend time outdoors (54%), many more were motivated by health reasons (70%) and, in particular, looking after mental health. Nearly two-thirds of the population reported mental health benefits as a result of spending time in nature during lockdown.

But not everyone had access to good quality local greenspaces during this time. While most people agreed that their local greenspaces were within easy walking distance of home and of a high enough standard for them to want to spend time there (75%), levels of agreement were lower among those living in the most deprived areas, people not in good health and those with a long-term limiting illness or disability (all 66%).  Similarly, levels of access to private garden space were lower amongst some population groups, including people aged under 45, those living in the most deprived areas and people living in large urban areas.

Encouragingly, the experiences of early lockdown have sparked an interest in local greenspaces and spending more time connecting with nature in future.   Many people are also interested in making other positive lifestyle changes when lockdown is over, such as encouraging their children to spend more time outdoors or continuing to travel less for non-essential journeys.

These findings underline how essential nature and access to local greenspace is for our health and wellbeing. However these benefts are not enjoyed equally by everyone. Sustaining the positive changes in behaviour and attitudes we saw during lockdown over the long-term and re-connecting those people who were shielding and less able to benefit from nature has a key role to play in our green recovery.

Read the survey findings on the NatureScot website