Publication - Research and analysis

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.

Outdoor recreation - understanding the drivers of participation: research
5. Enablers and barriers to participation in outdoor activities

5. Enablers and barriers to participation in outdoor activities

This chapter outlines the full set of factors that acted as enablers or barriers to starting and sustaining participation. Generally, these were the things that made it easier or more difficult for participants to start or continue participation in an activity. These enabling factors and barriers have been classified as either internal or external. Figure 3 below provides an overview of the enabling factors and barriers, which were identified from thematic analysis of the in-depth interviews. Each of these is then discussed in turn.

Figure 3. Enablers and barriers to participation in outdoor recreation

External

  • accessibility
  • infrastructure
  • childhood experiences
  • social norms
  • cultural
  • social connections and family
  • information and support
  • affordability
  • time
  • weather
  • COVID-19

Internal

  • identity and values
  • routines
  • goals
  • knowledge and experience
  • ability.

Since participants were recruited on the basis that they took part in outdoor activities, there was a natural emphasis in the research on enabling factors. However, important barriers to participation were also identified across the interviews. Since overcoming these barriers is key to widening and increasing participation in outdoor activities, where applicable, these have been highlighted below in addition to the enabling factors.

5.1 Internal enabling factors and barriers

Internal enabling factors are the individual, psychological and physiological factors or traits that were found to facilitate or restrict participants' participation in outdoor activities. These include:

  • identity and values
  • routines
  • personal goals
  • knowledge and experience
  • physical ability.

5.1.1 Identity and values

Motivation levels varied, ranging from those participants with high levels of enthusiasm for and participation in outdoor activities, to those who were less engaged in some activities and found it more difficult to motivate themselves to take part regularly.

Levels of participation and motivation in outdoor activities tended to be higher among participants who were motivated by the health and fitness benefits of an activity and who saw the activity as part of their personal identity or aligned with their personal values. For example, participants who self-identified with an activity, thinking of themselves as a 'runner', 'cyclist' or an 'outdoors person', tended to have high levels of participation and say that the activity played an important role in their lives.

"I'm a huge advocate of cycling, I could wax lyrical about it all day. [And] I think it's important for me to identify as a cyclist because there needs to be a lot done to promote cycling in Scotland. It is such a great country for cycling… we have so much to offer, [it's] such a beautiful country with so many great roads to travel." Male, aged 26-40, urban area

"I'm a huge ambassador for the outdoors, I've climbed 200 Munros, and I've done a lot of climbing and trekking abroad as well, so I advocate getting outside in the fresh air at all costs, and up a hill or down a beach as much as possible." Female, aged 41-64, urban area

"[Hill walking] is very important to me. Everyone knows me as a fit, positive, outdoorsy person. Doing it helps me to stay that way." Female, aged 26-40, urban area

These participants were enthusiastic and highly motivated to pursue and continue to take part in the activities that were important to them. As is evident from the above quotes, they often saw themselves as advocates for an activity and spoke passionately about the enjoyment and benefits they received from doing it.

Conversely, some participants found it difficult to motivate themselves to participate in outdoor activities. While this was sometimes due to factors such as a health condition or the weather, on other occasions it was simply that they just did not feel like doing it, or because the activity itself was not an important aspect of their life. However, participants tended to say that they would try to force themselves to go as they knew they would feel better after doing it.

"Sometimes I can feel quite de-motivated, but once I push myself to actually go outside, in the middle of the walks I'm usually enjoying them, and afterwards I usually have a sense that I've done something with my day." Female, aged 41-64, urban area

"It was tough [to motivate myself]. I'm in between two busy nightshifts and I had little energy or motivation, but I knew [the run] would clear my head and make me feel better so I pushed myself to go." Female, aged 26-40, urban area (app diary phase)

5.1.2 Routines

The extent to which taking part in an activity was part of a participant's everyday routine had an impact on ongoing participation. If an activity became part of a routine, it become familiar and habitual, and so participants found it easier to motivate themselves to do it.

One way in which outdoor activity had become part of participants' routines was for outdoor activity habits to be formed at a young age and to have continued into adulthood as just something that they do, almost without thinking about it.

"We [went walking] as a family activity when I was young and I've just never really stopped. When I was fitter and younger I did longer hikes. Now that I've got older and less fit, we just modify what we do. [And] we still do it with our kids and grandkids." Male, aged 65+, rural area

"I've been walking since forever. It [started] more as a family thing, everyone got together to go for walks, a social kind of thing... It's definitely still a [regular] thing, but on my own, not so much with anyone else." Female, aged 18-25, rural area

Other participants had established new routines during their adult lives, such as going for daily walks on their own or with family, weekly games of golf with friends, or through involvement in social groups such as hill walking clubs. Over time, these routines established themselves and became a regular part of participants' recreational and/or social lives, and, as a result, easier to do.

"I got into a routine, because my son gets picked up in the morning, and so I work until 11:00, at 11;00 I go for my walk, come back […] and then work in the afternoon, and it is a nice break… Once I had the routine it was much easier [to do]." Female, aged 26-40, rural area

"When I was working we played [golf] Sunday morning and, in the summer, a Wednesday evening. But now we're retired we play three mornings a week. It's usually, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday." Male, aged 65+, urban area

Exercising a dog was another reason that participants had established a routine, since this made them start to take recreational walks at least daily as a result. Indeed, a reason given for getting a dog was to get more regular exercise themselves as well.

"We've done much, much more [walking] since we got the dogs. And in fact, one of the reasons we got the dogs was to get us out more." Female, aged 41-64, urban area

More recently, lockdown restrictions during the pandemic resulted in new routines, such as regular lunchtime or after-work walks, being formed to give participants a reason to get out of the house and to add some variety to their lives. These routines were visible during the app diary phase of the research, with participants describing the daily walks they had started as a result of the lockdown restrictions. After noticing the benefits of these walks, participants hoped that their routines would continue to be part of their everyday lives even after lockdown restrictions come to an end.

"These [lunchtime] walks are something I started during the pandemic. Since we are not allowed to socialise or do [other] activities, I found these local walks to be quite mind freshening. And absolutely, these walks will continue post-COVID." Male, aged 26-40, urban area (app diary phase)

"I have always tried to get out in the evenings for a walk, but it's definitely been something I do way more regularly now with the lockdown! And I do think it'll be something I keep up with once the restrictions end. Especially as we come into the nicer weather." Female aged 18-25, rural area (app diary phase)

5.1.3 Personal goals

Setting personal targets or goals to stay motivated and to maintain or increase participation in an outdoor activity was another factor that had helped to improve participants' motivation. This was a particularly common enabling factor among highly active participants, whose participation in an activity was primarily motivated by maintaining or improving their physical fitness.

These participants said that setting personal goals or commitments, such as signing up to run a marathon, walking a given number of steps a day, or climbing a certain number of Munros in a year, helped to keep them motivated and focused on taking part in an activity, by giving the activity more purpose.

"Just at the moment I am planning this kind of four or five-day adventure through the Cairngorms to bag something like 18 Munros. I've actually started planning that now." Male, aged 26-40, urban area

"I always try to take one hour a day for walking or exercise. And I will try to walk 10,000 steps a day." Female, aged 26-40, urban area

"Mainly my inspiration is to be and stay mountain fit as I'd like to go hut to hut in the alps in my retiral." Female, aged 41-64, urban area (app diary phase)

These participants felt that if they did not have a target or goal to work towards their motivation could wane and they would do the activity less often.

"I get out [running] once or twice a week [at the moment]. Last year I was running four times a week but because of COVID there's no events or marathons on to work toward." Female, aged 26-40, urban area

5.1.4 Knowledge and experience

Having the requisite knowledge and experience to be able to take part in an activity was another important enabling factor and was closely related to the confidence participants had in their ability to do an activity. This included having the knowledge and skills about how and where to do an activity as well as its benefits.

How to do an activity

Some outdoor activities such as hill walking, cycling or climbing required participants to have some level of skill or experience in order for them to have the confidence to be able to take part safely and successfully. Participants tended to have gained these skills in childhood or over time on their own, from another person or by being part of a group or club.

Meanwhile, participants who identified more specialist activities they would like to try in future, such as sailing or kayaking, felt they would only be able to do these if they received training first, either from someone they knew or by joining a club or class.

"I would like to try my hand at sailing. My cousin recently bought a small boat, so I'm going to ask her to teach me how to sail." Male, aged 41-64, urban area

Levels of skill or experience tended to reflect how confident participants were in carrying out an activity and dealing with any health and safety risks. This had influenced how and when they took part. For example, there were varying levels of confidence among cyclists in regard to cycling on roads alongside traffic. This ranged from experienced cyclists who were confident in their ability to do this, to novices who expressed concerns about their safety and a lack of provisions for cyclists.

"I would say I find [cycling] easy, but then I've been doing it for a while, I'm quite knowledgeable about the roads and I'm confident as well." Male, aged 26-40, urban area

"Some areas were busy with the movement of cars, and there was no protection [for cyclists], so this made us leave the road and walk." Male, aged 26-40, urban area (app diary phase)

The example of a participant who was keen to take up cycling illustrates the importance of confidence and skill level. This participant mentioned that she lacked confidence and felt she needed to practice before cycling on a road or trail. She felt self-conscious about doing so, which made it more difficult to motivate herself to start.

"I feel a bit unconfident about [cycling] and, I guess, there's lots of other really proficient cyclists around, so if I could go to a place where I'm on my own I'd feel better." Female, aged 41-64, urban area

Confidence and skill level also affected hill walkers. Experienced hill walkers tended to say they were confident in their navigational skills or dealing with inclement weather conditions. In contrast, less experienced hill walkers said they would only do the activity with someone more experienced due to a lack of knowledge and confidence in what to do if something went wrong, such as having an accident or getting lost.

"I would typically do more Munros in the summer time but, without the coronavirus, I would do them all throughout the year if I could. I have winter skills training and I've been out in snow and ice and I've got the equipment, so I'm ready to do that." Male, aged 26-40, urban area

"If [my wife and I] are with a group, it takes away the worrying about getting there and getting lost and having your own problems, because someone else is taking responsibility… There's safety in numbers outdoors, that's the way we look at it." Male, aged 26-40, urban area

Having a negative experience while doing an activity could also affect confidence and the likelihood of doing it in future. This was most evident among cyclists, who reported that accidents on their bike, caused by poor road conditions, or near misses with traffic on the roads, had caused them to lose confidence in the activity and as a result they did it less often.

"I've been [cycling] for 15 years or so. I was actually more of a cyclist back then than I am now. Over time, after a few injuries and falls, I have cut down and started to go hill walking more." Male, aged 26-40, urban area

Confidence in doing outdoor activities had also been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly among some older participants and those with health conditions. These participants felt much more cautious about going outdoors at this time due to concerns about contracting the virus.

"In the last two weeks the only reason I'm going out is to go to the shops. It's not sensible to be going outside just now." Female, aged 65+, urban area

Where to do an activity

Another barrier to increased participation was a lack of knowledge of where to go to do an activity. Some participants, particularly those who were new to Scotland or to an activity, said that their knowledge of features like walking trails or cycle paths, or places to go for countryside or hill walks in their area, was limited and this could make it more difficult to get involved. Some minority ethnic participants thought that this was a particular barrier for people of their ethnic background, who they said had less experience of taking part in outdoor recreational activities.

"Because of my walking group, we were given a map telling us where to go walking. But talking about somebody else [from a minority ethnic background] who doesn't know the area, they wouldn't know where to go, because they have never been there. Sometimes they will just take a short walk on the path and come back, because they don't know the route or the area."Female, aged 26-40, urban area

The benefits of doing an activity

Participants from minority ethnic groups also suggested that a lack of knowledge about the benefits of outdoor activities among people of their ethnic group may be a barrier to participation. They noted that taking part in outdoor activities for leisure and recreation was less common among older generations from their culture and so, historically, awareness of the benefits was low.

"No one taught [my parents] the benefits of going out for a walk, what it does to your mind, the fitness benefits or of exploring what is really on your doorstep, you know, the beauty of Scotland. There are so many different places you can go and they didn't realise they were there. I mean they came to Scotland [to earn] money to provide for their family, so it wasn't the focus." Male, aged 26-40, urban area

Awareness of the mental health benefits, in particular, was thought to be low among certain ethnic groups. This reflects the findings in Chapter 4 which highlighted that few participants started an activity for these benefits and instead realised them as a result of doing the activity.

"People from [my country] need to know that walking and exercise is good for everybody. Not just if you want to look good or lose weight. It's good for everything – your mind and body." Female, aged 26-40, urban area

"In [my country] we don't have education about what is good about walking." Male, aged 26-40, urban area

5.1.5 Physical ability

The physical health and fitness of participants, and whether or not they felt they were physically able to do an activity, also affected how easy or difficult they found it to take part in outdoor activities.

Lower levels of physical fitness acted as a barrier to participation in more demanding activities, with participants who were less physically fit saying that they thought their current fitness levels precluded them from taking part in activities like running or hill walking. Others said that, if they stopped doing an activity as often, then it became difficult to restart as their fitness levels had dropped.

"My friends are doing Munros but I've yet to join them. I need to get my fitness up first." Male, aged 26-40, urban area

"I stopped [cycling] for about a year I think it was, and when I started back up it was hard, especially the hills, you know … If you don't do it for a while you lose your speed and your stamina." Male, aged 26-40, urban area

The presence of physical health conditions also acted as a barrier to participation in outdoor activities to varying degrees, depending on the nature and severity of the condition. Participants with conditions such as mild asthma said it could limit the extent to which they took part in activities, while participants with more debilitating conditions, such as knee or back injuries, were unable to take part in activities at all when their condition was at its worst.

"Today I went for a walk with my friend. I suffered a bit with my breathing, but I need to keep pushing myself. …Basically, if I didn't suffer [from asthma] from going out when it is wet and miserable, I would go out more." Female, aged 25-4

"It depends on how bad my leg is. If I do go out, I make sure there are seats because I can't walk far." Female, aged 65+, urban area

Similarly, there were older participants whose activities were restricted by the physical symptoms of old age, meaning they could not do an activity as often as they would like or could not take part in certain types of activities at all. Despite this, they were positive about continuing their participation in outdoor activities over the coming years, even if it meant adapting their activities in line with their ability.

"I'd like to do more outdoors [over the next five years] but I think during that time either my wife or I is going to find it physically more difficult with the consequences of old age." Male, aged 65+, rural area

5.2 External enabling factors and barriers

Several external factors also acted as enablers or barriers to participation in outdoor activities. These include:

  • easy access to good quality local green spaces
  • physical infrastructure
  • childhood experiences
  • social norms
  • cultural norms
  • social connections and family
  • information and support from other channels
  • affordability, access to transport and equipment
  • available leisure time
  • weather and daylight
  • lockdown restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

5.2.1 Easy access to good quality local green spaces

The presence or absence of local, good quality outdoor spaces which were easy to access emerged as an important factor affecting participants' ability to engage in outdoor activities.

Good quality spaces were seen as having a number of features, including:

  • being scenic, natural and green
  • being litter-free
  • being situated away from traffic and pollution, peaceful and not too crowded
  • having varied features such as trees, open space, areas of water, plants and flowers
  • supporting wildlife
  • having the required infrastructure, appropriate to the type of space, to enable access, such as paths or parking
  • being able to satisfy the differing needs of the group, in the case of a group visit (for example, bike-riding surfaces or playparks for children but also interesting walks for adults).

Both urban and rural participants were, on the whole, very positive about the quality of the outdoor spaces accessible to them. These positive feelings were also highlighted in the app diary exercise, where participants were asked to rate the quality of the green spaces they visited over the course of a two-week period, and scored them fairly highly. To illustrate:

"I'm only three minutes away from open green space (…) it's just a space, a preserved area where there are a lot of trees and birds … it's like a nature reserve just within the community, it's so fabulous. So, I take my kids there on bike rides on weekends and then we enjoy nature, we see the flowers and we see the birds singing, can even see the fish in water." Male, aged 41-64, urban area

For the most part, the presence of easy to access, good quality spaces acted as an enabler to participation in outdoor activities. However, there were those for whom a lack of such spaces was an issue and may have been a barrier to increased participation.

Dissatisfaction with local spaces emerged as more of an issue in more deprived areas. For example, one participant living in an SIMD 1 (most deprived) area reported not having anywhere immediately local where she felt she could take her children and dog safely, in part, she felt, because a number of green spaces had been used for housing developments.

In regard to the quality of local spaces, litter was perceived to be particularly off-putting, due to it detracting from the attractiveness of a space and effectively presenting a barrier to use of the location in extreme cases. For example, parents raised particular concerns about dangers presented by litter such as glass or needles or other hazardous refuse such as scrap metal:

"We have some good outdoor spaces, we have a lot of wildlife which is great, but there are big drawbacks with dog mess and litter certainly for the parks and canal walks nearby to us. (…) People were magnet fishing and taking trollies and bits of car and all sorts out of the canal and then just leaving it at the side, which then meant you didn't want to walk near there because it's quite dangerous." Female, aged 26-40, urban area

This litter problem was also highlighted in the app diary exercise, with participants commenting that removing rubbish and/or providing bins were the chief improvements that could be made to the spaces they described.

5.2.2 Physical environment / infrastructure

Participants explained how the physical infrastructure in outdoor spaces, such as paths, parking and facilities, had enabled or hindered their use of these spaces.

Many of the more frequent activities such as local walking, visiting playparks, running and cycling were carried out all year round, in designed and managed spaces such as parks. Participants identified a range of facilities that are important to them when using a space. These facilities effectively act as enabling factors - and the absence of a certain facility can act as a barrier to use by some groups.

Hard paths were considered very important for winter conditions, for older people and those with walking difficulties, as well as for wheelchair use, and for families with prams and children cycling.

"Quality to me would mean it would be quite clean, paths would be well maintained and accessible, especially if I'm taking my mother in a wheelchair. It is really hard if there aren't appropriate paths, so that's really important for us." Female, aged 26-40, urban area

Benches were appreciated and a lack of them could act as a barrier for those who were less physically fit and older age groups. However, participants who were physically fit also valued seating as it provided a focus for a picnic, to take in the view and enjoy the environment, or as a spot to relax and chat while children were playing.

"There is one bench and a whole adventure park… you can only stand for so long and you go 'right, let's go and do something', and you feel bad for the kids getting pulled away because you're bored of standing… so yes, it is just convenience things." Male, aged 26-40, urban area

The provision of climbing and adventure areas within larger parks, as well as provision of smaller local swing parks, was important for households with children, enabling families to spend time outdoors together.

"This local park is near my nephew's house. I take the three of them for a walk here when I'm visiting them each week. The park has a main footpath, with landscaped grass, plants and trees either side. It also has tennis courts, a children's play park and a small bird sanctuary. It is away from any main roads, so it is very peaceful." Female, aged 18-25, urban area (app diary phase)

There was a perception, however, that finding free or low-cost spots for older children and teenagers to have fun, such as bike tracks or aerial assault courses, was more difficult, and that this age group was not as well served as younger children. Parents described finding it challenging to encourage teenagers to participate in outdoor activities.

"The [amenities at National Trust Scotland properties] are really good for kids … but for those teenage years, my son nowadays doesn't see the point of going for a walk, it's just boring, what is the point of it?" Female, aged 41-64, rural area

Amenities such as toilets, bins and parking were also considered important in these types of spaces.

Physical infrastructure was also important when it came to outdoor spaces in more remote areas, such as hilly landscape, natural coastal areas or forest spaces, usually reached by car. Although there was a desire for these places to remain quiet, there was also an acknowledgement that a lack of parking and public transport could act as barriers to the use of such spaces. It was suggested that improvements to both could make these spaces more widely accessible.

"Available parking is quite limited so it would be nice if additional parking spaces were created. (…) I never go on weekends because I know it will be impossible to park." Female, aged 41-64, rural area

"It's a rural space and probably is suited as that and doesn't need much improvement from an infrastructure standpoint (…). I think for others that can't drive - better public transport rural links." Male, aged 26-40, urban area

Furthermore, while the desire was very much for nature to be at the fore in these spots, there was recognition that unobtrusive infrastructure such as bins in car parks, as well as potentially some path provision and the occasional bench, could aid access to, and management of, these types of area without spoiling them.

Activity-specific provision: cycling and sports facilities

Good quality long cycling routes, safe local cycling routes and mountain biking spots were all felt to be important both in encouraging cycling generally and enabling cyclists to maintain participation.

There was a perception that there is room for improvement in provision in these areas, which could make it easier for people to enjoy cycling. Primarily for safety reasons, separate cycling infrastructure was preferred to shared cycle/car spaces, particularly by families. Other European countries were perceived to have a more developed infrastructure for cycling, which allows it to flourish:

"It would be much better if there was a cycle path … having travelled to Austria a lot - and they cycle everywhere - there are amazing cycle paths and it's a real way of getting children, in particular, outside cycling. But [here] they are on roads and it's not as safe, you've got traffic to deal with and contend with, so I think if you had cycle ways it would really encourage a lot and promote a lot of people to exercise." Female, aged 41-64, urban area

With regard to outdoor facilities for other sports, the quality and availability of these were also perceived as major factors affecting participation. Participants who reported using such facilities tended to be younger men, with examples including fitness equipment, football pitches and multi-sport outdoor 'cages' (used in this case for roller-hockey). Factors such as poor quality pitch surfaces and limited availability of pitches that require booking were mentioned as barriers to use.

The photo below shows a participant using equipment which had recently been installed at his local park. He felt that this equipment had helped to improve the park overall, and having the equipment available locally to him helped motivate him to go out and exercise, even when the weather was bad.

"Today's weather has [been poor] but I wanted to go out to exercise. Had it not been for the park near my house, which is equipped with some sports equipment, I would not have been able to do anything today." Male, aged 26-40, urban area (app diary phase)

5.2.3 Childhood experiences

Participants' childhood experiences of outdoor recreation and cultural background both played a key role in their beliefs about and participation in outdoor activities.

Childhood factors were considered very important in establishing behaviours - growing up in a household where the family participated in outdoor activities was instrumental in establishing routines, and developing ability and confidence, that continued into adulthood. Participants described how they had continued family traditions that they had experienced in childhood once when they had their own children:

"My mum took us [to Ayr beach] when I was wee, I just started doing that with [my children]." Female, aged 26-40, urban area

Groups such as the Scouts were mentioned as a further source of outdoor education and participation. Participants who had lived in rural areas in childhood also credited this with encouraging their participation in outdoor activities from an early age:

"I was constantly out playing with my friends when I was little, I used to live up in the middle of nowhere, so the only way to get out anywhere or to do anything was to go for walks, because there was nowt else to do." Female, aged 26-40, rural area

5.2.4 Social norms

Social norms in participants' current environments were also very influential. Going for walks, on outings and on summer beach trips were all perceived as established and widely shared social norms. Seeing this type of participation in their social sphere, whether in their local community, in their friendship group or on social media, could have a positive effect on motivation and confidence as well as offering information and inspiration on places to go and groups that exist.

5.2.5 Cultural norms

Some minority ethnic participants, however, perceived that outdoor activities were not a traditional part of their culture and felt this had had a bearing on their own approach to outdoor activities. Multiple factors were given for this lack of participation in outdoor activities, including: outdoor exercise not being part of the culture in the places their family had originally come from; a focus on education and working rather than leisure activities; a high proportion of business owners, working long hours; a cultural focus on indoor family and community socialising; resistance, particularly from older community members, to getting involved in outdoor activities; a lack of knowledge about the impact of a more sedentary lifestyle on health, both physical and mental; a lack of knowledge about the available activities and scenic places to visit in Scotland; and not seeing others in their community doing outdoor activities.

Those participants who cited these cultural barriers had started participating in outdoor activities as adults, primarily through the support and education offered by community groups and health professionals – although there were also those who had been encouraged by friends who had recently taken up outdoor activities. Minority ethnic participants talked about the influence such groups could have, even on the older members of their communities.

"I think the last couple of years people are more and more aware and along with Boots and Beards [a walking group for Asian men] (…) there is another group called Step Out Scotland and their main focus was actually getting older people and families out. So, getting into people's mindset that you can actually go out and enjoy, even in your older age, out walking." Male, 41-64, urban area (app diary phase)

It was also noted that, if the group was not specifically for people from their community background, the association between outdoor activities and alcohol could act as a barrier, for example if groups ended an outing with a trip to a pub.

"They know that if they go with a different group [than Boots and Beards] they might not align on culture traditions and simple things, like maybe for example, in our religion no drinking and stuff. One or two have been on different groups and they are like, you know, when they go up, there is like alcohol and that involved, so that I think made a few members a bit edgy". Male, aged 26-40, urban area

5.2.6 Social connections and family

There were participants for whom social contact was a key motivating factor for starting and/or maintaining participation in outdoor activities. Even when social motivations were not the key reason for undertaking an activity, however, the presence or absence of others with whom to do an activity acted as an enabler or barrier to participation.

Having a friend, friendship group or family member to do something with was mentioned as an important factor in starting or maintaining a particular activity, providing people with information, confidence and support that they might not otherwise have had. This was particularly helpful for participation in new or niche activities, when familiarity and confidence were lower, such as Munro bagging, wild swimming or surfing.

It can also be a barrier or limiting factor to outdoor activity when friends or family members are not available. For example, one participant explained that she had found it more difficult to find a friend to walk with during lockdown and this had negatively affected her motivation:

"When I go alone, I don't walk as much as I used to walk with my friends. When we are all together we are encouraging each other: 'okay, let's walk more fast and then from here to there let's give a wee run'. But when I'm on my own doing 45 minutes I'm like 'oh, let's go back home' because you have nobody next to you and you start feeling bored." Female, aged 26-40, urban area

Having a social commitment to play a sport, such as tennis, had helped to motivate participants on occasions when they personally were feeling less motivated. There were also participants who reported being more motivated to commit to and achieve a challenge or goal when they did it with others.

"Playing social tennis is something I really enjoy. I would have preferred it a bit warmer but it was freezing cold today… I didn't even consider cancelling though as I'd have been letting down my friend." Female, aged 41-64, urban area (app diary phase)

Activity-centred groups or social groups also positively affected participation. Some provided support in the form of organisational and practical help, for example research, planning and transport. Groups could also help by building participants' knowledge and confidence, thereby making it easier to overcome barriers and participate. The different types of groups mentioned included: walking groups, cycling groups, wild swimming groups; social groups, such as church groups and community groups, organising different activities and outings; outdoor exercise groups, yoga classes and 'boot camps'; and social media groups with shared interests who organise meet-ups or team games.

Being part of a group also made it easier for participants to find someone of a similar ability to them to exercise with.

"We have got a cycling [WhatsApp] group that I have joined (…), I mean these guys are more hard-core, they are doing maybe 100 miles a week but they have different levels. What kind of helps is they are from the same community so you know everyone, you know everyone's fitness ability, and you're like 'Okay I can tag along with this guy' so that helps, for sure." Male, aged 26-40, urban area

Participants from minority ethnic backgrounds explained how groups have been particularly important over the last few years to their experience of taking part in outdoor activities. Groups provided additional reassurance and support where confidence and lack of familiarity with an activity were particular barriers. To illustrate:

"Me and my wife fell towards the back because she is a bit of a slow walker, she is able but she is slow. We eventually got cut off, and I realised everybody was a way ahead of us. Normally you would have worried at that point. I thought: 'look, don't worry, carry on walking, because we are in a group' (…) If you go in a large group and it is arranged then it takes a massive worry off your head." Male, aged 41-64, urban area

Family and household situation

Living with other adults could be an important enabling factor particularly for the elderly, those with health issues and those who did not drive. For example, there were those who relied on their partner or spouse to drive them to a place they could walk and be there to help them if required during the activity.

While children were a motivating driver for participation in some activity types (as discussed in Chapter 4), the presence of young children in the household could also act as a barrier to parents getting out alone for outdoor activities, particularly those that were more strenuous. For example, one male participant with very young children talked about looking forward to doing some hill-walking when his toddlers were older. Lone parents were particularly constrained in their ability to participate in activities without their children.

5.2.7 Information and support from other channels

In addition to the support provided by family members, friends and activity groups, other channels of information and support were important enablers to participation.

Being able to access information about places to go and about potential activities was perceived to be a key enabler. Sources of information and support mentioned as being useful by participants included: seeing images and recommendations on social media (less used by older groups); specific websites (e.g. Walkhighlands); newspaper features suggesting walking routes (more used by older groups); apps such as Strava and Ordnance Survey; and leaflets (e.g. from Tourist Information offices).

Lack of access to information sources could act as a barrier to use of a greater variety of spaces or activities. For example, there were participants who wanted to find new places to go or cycle paths to use with their children but felt this information was difficult to find.

Activity challenges or programmes were also an enabling factor. Participants described how they had got involved in various challenges which they had heard about through social media or word of mouth, such as the 'Couch to 5k' running app, Munro bagging, step challenges, biathlons and the 'NC500' (North Coast 500) route around the north of Scotland. Some of these activities were being organised as charity events, adding an extra dimension and reason for participation.

These types of programmes and challenges acted as enablers by providing a supportive and motivating framework, giving information, advice, and easy-to-follow instructions. Step-by-step guidance on how to proceed over a period of time was helpful to users in maintaining, as well as starting, an activity. These activity 'packages' were perceived largely as fitness-based, and some as social media-centred, and consequently had less awareness and appeal among older groups and those with a disability or long-term health condition.

Health professionals were also an important source of information. Although the mental and physical health benefits of outdoor activities were fairly widely known, there were those (particularly minority ethnic participants) who had only recently become aware of them, through GPs or other health professionals encouraging them to start or increase their participation. A lack of information prior to this may have acted as a barrier. Even some participants who were already aware of the health benefits of outdoor activities reported being prompted to start following advice from their GP.

5.2.8 Affordability, access to transport and equipment

Being able to afford to take part in an activity, having transport available to access it and being able to afford and store equipment are closely interrelated factors which could all enable or limit participation. These were barriers for participants living in more deprived areas in particular.

Participants' own financial situations, combined with the affordability of an activity, impacted on their ability to participate in different types of activities, and the frequency with which they did so. While the easy affordability of local walking, for example, enabled wide access, the additional costs of other activities presented barriers to participants who were less financially secure. Costs identified included: travel and subsistence costs, and accommodation costs for longer trips; entrance costs to public attractions; specialised clothing and footwear; equipment purchase or hire, maintenance and potentially storage; costs associated with learning a skill, such as a course of lessons; fees for clubs, exercise classes and personal training; and subscription fees, for example to a fitness app or an activity-specific association.

Those who had the financial means to invest in a number of activities described how being able to afford the necessary equipment, subscriptions for apps and travel to events enabled them to engage in the activities to a greater degree.

Conversely, affordability acted as a barrier to participants who did not have the financial means available to do what they would like. Examples included families – and single parents in particular – who were restricted by finances in the number of summer day trips they took and participants who wanted to take up cycling (again) but were not able to afford a bike.

Having easy access to transport emerged as a crucial enabling factor for participation in a range of activities. It facilitated quick access to fairly local scenic walking areas, sightseeing or holiday trips further afield, and activities only undertaken in specific locations, such as golf or snowboarding.

While car owners had the means to easily travel to their desired places, those who were unable to drive or did not currently own cars found it more difficult. They found themselves reliant either on others to transport them, or on public transport or car hire. Participants with mobility issues who could not walk far or were not confident using public transport were particularly affected by a lack of transport and relied on others to take them places.

Furthermore, the combination of a lack of access to transport and to funds for travel costs was particularly problematic for participants living in more deprived areas, who consequently felt that activities requiring travel were less accessible to them.

The requirement for equipment for activities created further barriers, not only in the form of costs but also in relation to preparation, maintenance, storage and transport considerations. Such barriers included: not having the space to store a bike; the hassle of taking bikes up and down stairs when you live in a flat; and difficulty transporting specialist equipment.

"I was reluctant to go [cycling with my son today] as I live in a flat with a narrow hallway and two flights of stairs to carry the bikes down." Female, aged 41-64, urban area (app diary phase)

One participant had come across a solution to the bike storage problem, in the form of a local bike-loan programme in her community:

"I don't know if it is the council or some organisation… they have the bikes in the container, they run a project, so you just go there and tell them 'hi, I'm here'… you go away to Helix or here and there for an hour or so and then come back, give them back the bike. They did offer me to take it home, but obviously I'm in a flat so I don't have any place to keep it." Female, aged 26-40, urban area

5.2.9 Available leisure time

A further enabler or barrier to pursuing outdoor activities was the amount of free time participants had available. Long working hours were the main barrier, with having children at home to care for being an additional issue, particularly for working single parents, and also for parents homeschooling during the pandemic. Those who were retired, on the other hand, tended to have the most time available and this acted as an enabler to their participation.

5.2.10 Weather and daylight

Good weather and daylight increased participants' desire to be outdoors. The impact of poor weather conditions varied – some reported going out in all weathers, others went out in different weathers but found it easier to motivate themselves in better weather, while others considered themselves to be 'fair weather' types and limited their participation to better weather. Reduced daylight in winter was a particular issue for those working full-time, with participants feeling restricted more to weekend activities.

"At this point in time [December] during the weeks… it's not often we get out for walks because round about local areas here it is quite dark with the short days just now. Parks obviously - not very enjoyable and probably not the safest place at night time either. Male, aged 41-64, urban area

Extreme cold and difficult conditions underfoot were particularly off-putting for older and less mobile participants and those with very young children. The effects of this ranged from visiting alternative places in order to avoid muddy areas and stick to paved paths to not going out at all in certain conditions.

The weather also acted as a barrier for participants with health conditions that could be aggravated by certain weather conditions. To illustrate:

"I'm asthmatic so it does … have a bit of an effect, … it makes my chest even tighter, so when it is cold and damp outside, I try and avoid it." Female, aged 26-40, urban area

5.2.11 Impact of lockdown restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic

As highlighted throughout this report, lockdown restrictions have had varying impacts on different groups. Below is a summary of the ways in which the situation has acted both as a barrier to participation and as an enabler.

As a barrier

Participants have:

  • stayed indoors more, due to concern about the risks of going out and desire to follow government guidance (particularly older participants, those with a disability or long-term health condition, minority ethnic groups, and those who are more anxious)
  • been unable to take part in certain activity types: for example, group activities, team sports and those not undertaken locally (particularly a problem for those who regularly enjoy these types of activity)
  • avoided certain local places made busier by the pandemic (more of a problem for those living near attractive spots and in high density areas)
  • had less free time due to increased work (for example where the individual's industry is busier as a result of the pandemic) and pressures of home-schooling
  • had operations and health investigations delayed, for conditions that interfere with outdoor activities (such as those with knee problems or asthma).

As an enabler

Participants have:

  • had increased time for outdoor activities (for example furloughed workers)
  • had more flexibility to go out during daylight, and also to choose a 'weather window' for a walk or other activity (those working from home)
  • increased outdoor activity due to the lack of alternative options of other things to do and of indoor exercise, and the focus on exercise as an 'essential purpose' for being out of the house
  • increased outdoor activity as the only way to have face-to-face contact with friends (particularly those less anxious about social contact).

As discussed further in the recommendations section that follows, there is potential to build on the positive changes the pandemic situation has brought about.


Contact

Email: socialresearch@gov.scot