The importance of the iconic West Midlands countryside and farmed landscape has been put into focus for bolstering people’s health and mental well-being.
Survey results, produced for the NFU, show our rural areas, which have been shaped by generations of farmers, have been a lifeline to thousands of Herefordshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire and Worcestershire people during lockdown.
More than eight out of 10 people questioned from the five counties (87%) said that visiting the countryside and farmland during the Covid-19 pandemic had improved their physical or mental wellbeing, with more than half saying it had improved both.
People also said it gave them an appreciation of rural areas, helped them understand more about farming and where their food comes from and got them closer to nature.
Just over 2,000 adults living outside of rural areas in England and Wales were independently interviewed with more than 200 from the West Midlands taking part.
Malcolm Roberts, NFU regional board chairman, who represents members in each county, said the survey showed physical and mental health was being delivered by farmers and growers.
The sheep and arable farmer said: “The fact a massive 87% of those surveyed said they had benefitted from the countryside is quite something.
“The landscape has been shaped by farmers over generations and we feel privileged that it helps us grow crops, rear livestock and deliver for the environment.
“I hope that following Covid-19 we all place a higher value on the simple things in life, great British food, fresh air, the beauty of our farmland on our doorstep and an appreciation of those who work there and manage it.
“Last year, a survey showed 86% of British people believe Britain should grow more of its own food and we know we have their support for our high welfare, production and environmental standards.
“These latest results are great, showing there is an additional return for people in terms of their well-being and that’s something that should not be overlooked.
“We’ve welcomed more and more people to the countryside than ever during lockdown and they are welcome, but I would still urge those out and about, to follow The Countryside Code.
“I’d ask them to please keep to public paths and stay clear of standing crops and wildlife corridors on our farms and be cautious around livestock, especially if people are out with their dogs.”
The latest survey showed that before March 2020 nearly 30 per cent of people said they spent an hour or more a month visiting, walking or exercising in the British countryside - since lockdown, the West Midlands figure has more than doubled, with three quarters saying they now spent at least an hour visiting our rural areas.
While nearly half (49%) of respondents in the West Midlands said they were most likely to take their dog with them and a massive 76% said they kept their pet on a lead around livestock.
Around 29% said they were not aware of The Countryside Code and 10% said they never visited the British countryside or farmland at all.
The survey also showed that half of those in Herefordshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire and Worcestershire would prefer to staycation at a farm, countryside hotel or use bed and breakfast accommodation; 23% would be up for countryside camping.
Half also said they were keen to share pictures and videos of the countryside and farmland on social media following their visits.
The role farmland plays in boosting physical and mental well-being has also been highlighted in the NFU’s Levelling Up Rural Britain report, launched in February.
The report says farmers’ efforts to maintain, create or enhance public rights of way should be rewarded as part of new Government farm funding schemes, provided they recognise the value, and preserve the integrity, of land used for food production.
Robert Newbery, NFU West Midlands regional director, said: “Farmers want people to engage with, and take an interest in, where their food comes from, which is why we have also produced information signs for members to put out on footpaths across their land.
“Walking the myriad of footpaths across our region provides a real boost to people’s health and wellbeing.
“I think it remains of huge importance that this access and engagement is achieved in a responsible way and the fact that much of this land is a working environment is recognised, and respected, by the public and decision-makers alike.”
NFU members can obtain ‘What’s growing in my field’ footpath signs and other useful gate signs online, please go to our membership pages on the internet.
For further information about the NFU’s lobbying work or to join the union, farmers and growers can contact their local group secretary or the NFU regional office on 01952 400500.