Farmed landscape provides physical and mental wellbeing benefits

Norfolk resident Stacey High: "Strolling through the countryside clears my mind completely as I am focusing on so many other interesting things, including wildlife."

The pivotal role played by East Anglia’s countryside in boosting people’s wellbeing is highlighted in a new survey.

Almost nine out of 10 (88%) people questioned in towns and cities across the region said that visiting the countryside and farmland over the past year had improved their physical or mental wellbeing. Just over half (51%) said it helped to improve both.

More than one third (36%) said they spent more time in the countryside during lockdown and 45% said they had a greater appreciation of the British countryside and farmland than they did a year ago.

'A long-term positive legacy'

NFU Regional Director Gary Ford said: “For much of the lockdown, visiting the countryside was the only recreation and exercise many people were able to enjoy. It’s heartening to discover this really has boosted the nation’s health and wellbeing.

“The survey confirms that connecting people with rural areas they may never have visited before can leave a long-term positive legacy of greater appreciation of the countryside as well as, importantly, improving health and wellbeing.

“Countless popular rural tourist spots throughout East Anglia are located on working farmland, and farmers work hard to maintain footpaths and public rights of way so visitors can enjoy our beautiful countryside.

“Recognising this, and to inform visitors using footpaths of what is happening on farmland, we have created a suite of new footpath signs that enable people to see what’s growing, or grazing, in fields.

“Visitors can read all about commonly-grown food crops or the farm animals they see, scanning a QR code on the sign with their smartphone to learn more.”

'Beneficial to get out to nature'

The importance of the countryside and farmed landscape for bolstering people’s health and mental well-being is recognised by Norfolk and Waveney Mind and Suffolk Mind.

Ruth Taylor, Social Development Manager/Mindfulness Manager for Norfolk and Waveney Mind, said: “There’s a huge amount of evidence of how beneficial it is for us to get out in nature, and more recently, in helping us come to terms with the changes the pandemic brought to our lives.

“We found this in our recent DCMS /Pears Foundation project at the start of this year, offering mindful woodland walks and food growing activities. Here, 95% of attendees reported their mood had improved, they felt calmer, closer to others around them and less isolated following these sessions.

“We are very excited to be offering a new project this autumn, building on these nature-based activities, called Nature Connect, which will offer other opportunities for people across Norfolk to engage with both green and blue spaces around them.”

'A crucial opportunity for us to relax'

Suffolk Mind Chief Executive Jon Neal said: “The approach to mental health that we use at Suffolk Mind helps us to understand the positive impact the countryside and nature has on our wellbeing.

“We all have emotional needs, which must be met for us to avoid stress and stay well. They include being able to get privacy, so we can calm down and reflect – and clearly the countryside can help us here.

“We also need to share attention with other people, and to have some meaning and purpose in our lives. Connecting with nature can enable us to meet these needs.

“At a time when we’ve been surrounded by screens and technology even more than usual, the countryside represents a crucial opportunity for us to relax, give attention to meaningful activities, and spend time with friends, colleagues and loved ones.”

Follow the Countryside Code

The Censuswide survey also asked people about their understanding of the Countryside Code. More than two thirds, 68% of respondents, said they were somewhat or fully aware of the code.

Gary Ford said: “During lockdown, the sheer volume of visitors in the countryside did cause issues in some areas, with crops damaged, gateways blocked and an increase in dog attacks on livestock.

“It's important to follow the guidance in the Countryside Code when visiting rural areas. Keep to footpaths and other public rights of way, leave gates as you find them, and take your rubbish home. If you have a dog, please keep it on a lead near livestock.

“Our survey shows that around one third of people know little about the code, suggesting more needs to be done to promote awareness.”

The role farmland plays in boosting physical and mental wellbeing is highlighted in the NFU’s Levelling Up Rural Britain report, launched in February. It says that farmers’ efforts to maintain, create or enhance public rights of way should be rewarded as part of new government farm funding schemes.

  • Censuswide questioned 2,009 adults living outside of rural areas in England and Wales between 10 and 15 June 2021, including 182 people from the East of England.

‘Outdoors has so many benefits for everyone’

Norfolk resident Stacey High explains why she loves heading out into the countryside.

stacey high_79912

“I walk locally daily, which is through fields and back lanes in east Norfolk or along the Yarmouth/Gorleston coast line for about an hour, depending on how much time I have. I also hike with a friend when I can as her hobby is wildlife photography, so we dot around Norfolk.
“The countryside here is so tranquil, full of wild bloom, fragrances, peaceful looking fields of farmers' crops swaying in the wind and birds forever tweeting in the background. The fresh air is wonderful and I am always foraging wild flowers such as comfrey, stinging nettles and wild garlic, which I use as natural feed for everything I grow. 

“Passers-by stop for a chat now and again, which is an added bonus these days as I feel anxious going to crowded places. 

'I come home with a clearer mind'

“Whatever the weather, I must have an outside activity daily. If not I just don't feel right and caged in. Another added bonus is walking comes without a price tag, so it is priceless in both senses of the word.

“Strolling through the countryside clears my mind completely as I am focusing on so many other interesting things, including wildlife. There is never a day goes by where I don't see something different.

“Outdoors has so many benefits for everyone. I find I come home with a clearer mind, ready to get on with something else and the great feeling knowing I have achieved something that gives me that feel-good factor.”