Forestry Commission logo
NEWS RELEASE No: 167246 APRIL 2018

"It's better in the forest" – sport study reveals remarkable success

It's better in the forest” – sport study reveals remarkable success

A three-year pilot programme by Forestry Commission England and Sport England saw an increase of 246% in sporting visits to five sites in the nation’s forests. Creating a sporting habitat for life is a key commitment for the Forestry Commission and the success of the pilot has allowed them to develop the programme to a total of 14 sites across England thanks to National Lottery funding from Sport England.

You wouldn’t normally expect to play table tennis, football and volleyball in forests, but these were introduced as part of the programme, alongside the forests’ core activities such as cycling and running.

Being physically active in nature was the main motivation for people to get involved in these activities (85%) and results have shown that what greatly enhanced the experience for many visitors were the aesthetics of the forest. Participants talked about the atmosphere of the forests; the beauty, scenery, wildlife and the opportunity it gave them to be in the fresh air, and the sense of freedom this gave.

One visitor said: “Yes its better in the forest, it would be boring otherwise. This is lovely; I think being in the forest adds to the enjoyment. You can hear the birds; there are changes in the seasons. You are more observant of what is around you; you look and listen for things.”

The programme also demonstrated the forests’ ability to get less active people doing more frequent activity with 49% of people changing to being active once a week or more. Another benefit was participants began to change their behaviour, making social and family connections and enhancing their wellbeing.

An active forest participant said: “My first run was 12 weeks ago, it’s made a massive, massive difference. I’ve lost one stone and nine pounds and I’ve come off anti-depressants. It just keeps me going. I come to (parkrun) with my niece, I never thought my niece would want to come with me. So now we come every week and have aunty and niece time together.”

Following the success, the programme is now being developed over the next five years and will continue to provide recreational and other social benefits to those visiting the nation’s forests.

Peter Rawlinson, Head of Active Forests says “Our forests inspired a total of 7000,97 sporting visits during the three-year pilot which was a huge success. We want to continue to make it an easy choice for visitors to adapt and maintain a sporting habit for life. Fun, inspiration and accessibility will be at the heart of all activities.”

The programme has been made possible by people who play the National Lottery. Sport England awarded £444,000 National Lottery funding for the pilot with a further £701,000 for further development.

Sport England Executive Director Mike Diaper said: “England’s forests are wonderful places and it’s tremendous to see the increase in visitor numbers that can be achieved by promoting them as places to enjoy sport and get active in.

“It’s also encouraging to hear so many people say that that they would like to return in the future and enjoy the health benefits that regular activity brings.

“We look forward to working with the Forestry Commission to expand the scheme and gain further insights and understanding on what motivates people to be active in the outdoors and how we can remove any barriers that prevent them.”

Heading to your local forest can also be good for your wallet. One year’s Discovery Pass membership to your local Forestry Commission England site costs around the same as one month’s gym membership.

With close to 3,000km of waymarked trails, cycle routes and bridal paths open every day it’s easy to see why the nation’s forests are a great partner to get the nation moving.

Find out more at