Visiting the countryside does wonders for people’s physical and mental health according to a new survey of more than 2,000 non-rural residents across England and Wales.
Almost nine out of 10 (86%) people questioned in towns and cities across Yorkshire and the North East said that visiting the countryside and farmland over the past year had improved their physical or mental wellbeing. Just over half (52%) said it helped to improve both.
More than 90% of Newcastle residents questioned and 82% of those living in Leeds said their wellbeing was improved as a result of spending time in the countryside.
More than one third (36%) said they had spent more time in rural areas during lockdown and 49% said they now had a greater appreciation of the British countryside and farmland than they did a year ago.
NFU Regional Director, Adam Bedford said: “For the last 16 months, getting out into the countryside has been pretty much the only option for anyone seeking some much-needed recreation and exercise.
“These findings demonstrate how much people have appreciated the real benefits they have enjoyed as a result of spending time in our farmed landscape – getting closer to nature, understanding more about farming and food production and generally gaining a greater appreciation of rural areas.
“More than a third (35%) of the people interviewed said that before lockdown they never normally ventured outside their urban environment, so it is rewarding to see this change helping them cope with the challenges of the pandemic.
“A greater appreciation of rural areas was reported by more than 50% of people interviewed and that will be welcome news to the farming community dedicated to managing our spectacular regional landscapes while delivering a delicious, nutritious larder for us all.”
Robin Asquith is a Yorkshire farmer who leads the social farming initiative for the Camphill Village Trust near Whitby. Social Farms offer meaningful placements for adults with disabilities, age related illness and mental health concerns, and says Robin, the farmland setting is crucial in helping people become more confident, learn new skills and live more independent lives.
He said: “Farms can help with social inclusion and cohesion, confidence, and skills building. Spending time in the countryside has been found to help with mental health problems including anxiety and depression. The quiet calm of the countryside is contagious, it somehow leaves the mind calm and relaxed ready to tackle life’s next daily challenge.”
The survey also asked people how aware they are of the government’s Countryside Code guidance, which urges visitors to ‘respect, protect and enjoy’ rural areas. A third of people interviewed said they were not aware of the code’s straightforward advice.
Encouraging people to find out more about it, Adam Bedford added: “Over recent months, the sheer volume of visitors in the countryside has caused issues in some areas, with crops damaged, gateways blocked, large-scale littering and an increase in dog attacks on livestock.
“Farmers genuinely like to see people out and about enjoying the wide open spaces the countryside offers, but we also appeal to everyone to follow government advice on how to enjoy your visit without impacting wildlife, farm animals, food crops and local residents. Please keep to footpaths and other public rights of way, leave gates as you find them, and take your rubbish home.
“Please do not light fires and only use portable barbecues where signs say they are allowed. If you have a dog, please keep it on a lead near farm livestock and ‘bag and bin’ any mess.”