Members of the Lords debated how outdoor activities contribute to the UK economy and the health and wellbeing of the population, yesterday (Thursday 16 May).
The debate was opened by Lord Greaves (Liberal Democrat). He began by looking at economic benefits of the ‘great outdoors’, citing figures from Natural England’s 2011 Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment report which stated that ‘2.73 billion visits to the natural environment took place in 2011-12, 10% up on the previous year, and that £20 billion was spent’. He then went on to look at health benefits, and referenced an academic study from 2007, which ‘reported that physical inactivity cost the NHS between £1 billion and £1.8 billion a year, and that the cost to the wider economy was £5.5 billion in sickness absence and £1 billion in premature deaths.’
Lord Judd (Labour), vice president for the Campaign for National Parks, highlighted the lack of opportunities for the public to access the countryside, saying in some areas ‘the recreational infrastructure is fragmented, in poor condition or access is not signposted.’
Lord Gardiner of Kimble (Conservative), government spokesperson for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, covered government plans to increase active participation in the UK, and spoke about a range of sports, from football to mountaineering. He also looked at the importance of access to the countryside and highlighted a number of initiatives, including the £2 million fund announced by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for the creation of new permanent access rights. He concluded by saying: ‘The activities of last year’s golden summer of sport show us all what we can do. We must now fulfil the next stage by encouraging even more participation in outdoor activities with all the benefits they undoubtedly bring.’