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We need a Minister for 'the Outdoors' to recognise the economic value of outdoor recreation

3 min read

Conservative MP David Rutley writes ahead of his Westminster Hall debate today and call on DCMS to include the benefits of outdoor recreation in the upcoming Sports Strategy.

Outdoor recreation helps improve physical health and mental wellbeing, and it also drives much of the domestic leisure and tourism economy.  With the consultation on Sports Strategy having just been concluded, and with the Spending Review underway, the time is ripe to debate outdoor recreation and the economic value it generates. 

According to evidence cited by DCMS, those who play sport are healthier, happier and more likely to be successful in academic study and professional life. UKActive, meanwhile, highlights how in some parts of the UK more than 40 per cent of the adult population is classed as inactive and 12.5 million people in England are currently failing to raise their heart level for more than half an hour per week over a 28-day period. A Government-sponsored paper, Moving More, Living More, sets out that the costs associated with inactivity in the UK are some £20bn.

There is growing evidence that we need a fundamental shift in social attitudes to being active, where it is more usual to take part and be physically active than not.  But we also need to interpret ‘sport’ in the widest sense of active recreation.  Because, while reluctant to put on, say, a pair of football boots, some 20 million people do say they would like to participate in outdoor recreation of some kind.  Some we will need to nudge, others we will need to empower and enable to take that step.

The burden that physical inactivity is placing on limited health resources is unsustainable. But it’s not just about saving money, outdoor recreation makes money too.  According to the Sport and Recreation Alliance’s excellent Reconomics economic impact study, the visitor spend associated with outdoor recreation is a staggering £21bn a year – twenty-one billion!  Our national tourism agencies are now trying to increase international spend in rural Britain too.  Savvy international tourists are looking for great experiences as well as great photo-opportunities, and our active countryside certainly provides them.  We just need to let travellers know where to go and how to get there.

So, I will ask that outdoor recreation receives the utmost consideration from DCMS as it weighs up the submissions to the consultation on the Sports Strategy.  And I will ask that outdoor recreation be fully integrated into the strategy when it is finalised.  I’d even like the minister’s job title expanded to include “the Outdoors”, if possible.  Minister for Sport, Tourism and the Outdoors has a certain ring, and would focus her Department on the need to consider outdoor Britain as well as the big indoor cultural institutions it oversees.  Finally, I would like to see a cross-departmental approach to outdoor recreation – just as DCMS is already leading on cross-departmental tourism issues – and get more of us out into our green and pleasant gym.

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Woodland Trust Head of Government Affairs (James Cooper) responds :

“The Woodland Trust has long pushed for greater recognition of the value of accessible local green space for people’s health and wellbeing but currently just 18% of the UK’s population has access to a wood within walking distance of their home. What could be easier to increase your exercise quota than going for a walk through your local woodland?

As recommended by the Natural Capital Committee, we need to bring green spaces including woods and trees closer to people. In it’s third report earlier this year, the Committee stated that 250,000 ha of new woodland close to people would deliver net societal benefits above £500m per year.”

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