White knuckle ride or a walk in the hills?

Issue date: 10 February 2006


Public footpath How would you prefer to spend your leisure time if you had a choice between a white knuckle ride, a stroll in the hills, staying at home with friends or spending a few hours surfing the internet?

Over the past 20 years white knuckle experiences and leisure in the home have been increasing in popularity relative to visiting the countryside for quiet pursuits such as walking and visiting beauty spots according to research by rural leisure experts at the University of the West of England and the University of Gloucestershire. The researchers have just completed an evaluation of a Great Britain Day Visits survey conducted during 2002 and 2003 to determine what British choose to do in their leisure time.

This trend has significant implications for future planning decisions by government funded rural leisure agencies.

The researchers have also discovered that there are marked social divisions indicating that the wealthy and the middle classes are more likely to take a country walk with those from less wealthy or ethnic backgrounds who are more likely to pursue an organised experience or enjoy leisure time at home. The national obsession with DIY, brought on by the rise in homeownership during the 1980s, and the profusion of home based distractions like computers and myriad electronic goods have also stemmed the growth of people choosing to spend leisure time going for a country stroll.

Professor Nigel Curry, from UWE's Faculty of the Built Environment explains, “The key purpose of our project has been to provide a better understanding of the nature of countryside recreation to provide intelligent observations that will be used to form policy by countryside agencies so that public rural leisure money is spent wisely.

“The changing trends have significant policy consequences for rural leisure agencies and organisations as many policies were developed in the 1970s with a view to managing what was seen as considerable growth of recreation in the countryside. We witnessed the proliferation of country parks and attractions distilling the countryside into a contained rural experience. Since then more policies have been introduced to increase rural recreation opportunities such as the agri-environment schemes and Heritage Tax exemptions of the 1980s, community forests in the 1990s and more recently access to open country under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act in 2000. But a growth in consumption has not really kept pace with this new supply.

“Over the past 20 years the markets for more intensive and home-based leisure pursuits has burgeoned with more people opting to consume conspicuous goods like golf or health club membership.

“We have found that those who do go for country walks like the footpath system best but this doesn't always get the resources it needs to keep it in top condition and fully signposted.

“What the evaluation of the this study has enabled us to ascertain is a much clearer picture of where to prioritise public expenditure to maximise the public enjoyment of the countryside by giving people what they want.”

-ENDS-

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