Outdoor recreation - understanding the drivers of participation: research

This report presents findings from research into participation in outdoor recreation among adults in Scotland. The research explores drivers behind the observed increases in participation, as well variations across population groups, with a view to widening participation.

3. Overview of perceptions of and participation in outdoor activities

This section gives an overview of participants' views of the outdoors and of outdoor activities in Scotland, and the types of outdoor space they used. It outlines their levels of participation, including a note on the impact of the pandemic, and the main types of activities they undertook.

3.1 Views of the outdoors and outdoor activities in Scotland

3.1.1 First associations

First associations with the outdoors and outdoor activities in Scotland were largely very positive. When asked what first came to mind, participants thought of beautiful natural scenery, favourite places, favourite activities, and the local parks or facilities available nearest to them. Participants also expressed feelings of pride and good fortune at living in or near a beautiful space.

"We are very lucky to have a beach on our doorstep, very nice walks round about." Female, aged 65+, rural area

"I've done a lot of Munro bagging, and that's really my number one activity. But other things that come to mind… I don't know if this is an activity but even driving through the Highlands is quite nice, it's much different scenery to what you get down here. (…) I quite like scenery, hills and the lakes and the contrasts." Male, aged 26-40, rural area

While negative associations were far outweighed by the positive, the primary negatives which came to mind were problems of litter spoiling a space and the unpredictable and limiting nature of the weather in Scotland.

"It is a bit weather-dependent even if you are in the best of health, but basically I think Scotland is a great place for outdoor activities." Male, aged 65+, urban area

3.1.2 Types of outdoor space

Broadly speaking, there were three types of outdoor space that participants reported using:

  • managed communal spaces, often urban/semi-urban, with built functional features to cater for different groups (such as paths, benches, playparks and sports facilities) and aesthetic features (such as gardens and other ornamentation)

"Walking to the local park with my son. It was an overall enjoyable walk. In particular, we enjoyed seeing the birds and spring flowers." Female, aged 26-40, urban area (app diary phase)

  • natural and fairly 'untouched', rugged spaces, usually in countryside and more remote areas, but also existing close to urban areas

"I went for a walk with a friend in the woods around my house in rural Aberdeenshire. It started raining halfway during the walk so that was a bit of a letdown." Female, aged 26-40, rural area (app diary phase)

  • paid spaces that cater for a specific interest, such as an aerial assault course, a golf course or a historic property garden.

"Round of golf with my usual golfing partner. Great to get out for the first time this year as the course has been closed [due to COVID-19 restrictions]." Male, aged 65+, urban area (app diary phase)

  • The more managed communal spaces had the widest and most frequent use. These were usually local to the user requiring little if any travel. While paid managed spaces were also popular, factors such as fees, travel requirements and the specific offer of the space mean that these tended to be used less commonly.
  • The more natural and rugged spaces were used primarily for walking and hill-walking, as well as running, cycling and nature-watching. While participants enjoyed the idea of this type of space (as the epitome of beautiful, wild Scottish scenery), actual use varied, with these spaces being used less by families and by older and/or less mobile participants. They were also less easily accessible for all, often requiring travel to reach them as well as some prior research or information.

The varying motivations for use, and the enablers and barriers presented by different types of spaces, are discussed in detail in Chapter 5.

3.2 Levels of participation

Because the research was focused primarily on the drivers of participation, all participants were recruited on the basis that they had taken part in outdoor activities over the past 12 months and therefore had at least a minimum level of participation. However, within this, participation levels varied greatly from occasionally going for a walk, at the lower end, through to committing substantial time, effort and money on a regular basis to several different activities, at the higher end. In the app diary phase, participants took on average eight visits for outdoor recreation over the course of a fortnight.

Levels of participation were affected by a combination of key motivating factors, enablers and barriers specific to the individual's circumstances, a detailed discussion of which is provided in Chapters 4 and 5 of this report.

3.2.1 Coronavirus pandemic context of the research

At the time of this study, all participants were living under some pandemic-related restrictions and had been, to varying degrees, over the previous eight to nine months. These restrictions limited travel and social contact, and thereby disrupted normal work and leisure patterns, including participation in outdoor activities.

This had varying impacts on different groups, depending on factors such as working situation, age and health. These impacts are highlighted where relevant throughout the report. Discussion with participants covered pre-pandemic times as well as more recent activities in order to gain an understanding of more typical participation patterns. However, during the app diary fieldwork, participants were limited by restrictions in what they could do and the main activities reported were walking, running and cycling.

3.3 Activity types

Participants took part in a range of outdoor activities which fell into three broad categories: walking; outings (e.g. sightseeing/visiting attractions); and other sports/fitness activities. Motivations for participation in each of these are summarised briefly below and discussed fully in Chapter 4.

Walking was widely enjoyed and considered a very easy activity to participate in - flexible in suiting different needs and abilities (short or long walk, gentle or brisk), requiring minimal cost, preparation or equipment and being easy to do in a wide variety of locations. It was also felt to have the added benefit of combining a number of purposes including walking dogs, getting children outdoors and active, commuting and interests such as nature and sightseeing. Hill-walking was considered to be a distinct activity which was more strenuous and specialised than 'going for a walk', requiring more in the way of equipment and knowledge.

Participants reported taking a range of different trips, including both regular, weekend activities and more occasional/summer outings. These trips included visiting different types of places (such as beaches, hills, forests, lochs, waterfalls), public attractions (such as gardens and parks, historic properties) and activities (playparks, aerial assault courses or outdoor karting). They tended to involve traveling somewhere outside participants' immediate locale and were often undertaken as family outings.

Other sports and fitness activities, perceived to require greater physical exertion, appealed particularly to fitter and younger groups. These included running (particularly popular among those wanting to lose weight/improve fitness) and cycling (this could be a high fitness sport, a family activity, casual local cycling or a mode of transport) as well as activities requiring more specialist skills or equipment such as team sports, water sports and winter sports.



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