Use of Green & Blue Spaces in Lockdown
The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting lockdown brought significant changes to the daily lives of people in the UK. Restrictions were placed on social contact, and on usual activities in terms of both work and leisure. These, among other factors, have caused concerns for negative impacts on mental health (Pierce, 2020).
Green spaces include parks, woodlands and meadows and blue spaces include the seaside, lakes, rivers and reservoirs. Being outdoors and spending time in nature have long been associated with feeling happier and healthier, but we wanted to see if people in the UK changed their use of green and blue spaces during lockdown, and if this had any impact on their wellbeing.
We received 250 responses to a short, online survey which covered the period of tightest restrictions during the first lockdown (March – June 2020) in the UK. There was a high proportion of female (78%) respondents. The majority had access to their own garden (88%) with only 2.4% not having access to any outside private or shared space or balcony. Most people were working from home during this time (72%), with 3 or less people in their household (79%).
Almost three quarters of respondents (72%) increased their use of outdoors spaces during lockdown, with 40% of respondents going outdoors every day. Although the positive benefits of time in nature are often linked to increases in physical exercise, the most common activities undertaken were low intensity or passive. Responses showed individuals regularly going for a walk (81%) or simply sitting outside (54%) at least a few times a week.
There were consistently reported positive impacts of green and blue spaces, especially on physical health (93%), mood (94%), anxiety (82%) and enjoyment of nature and wildlife (86%). This was reflected in the free text responses:
“Being able to access green areas helps you unwind, relax and feel more positive about everything.”
“Covid has reaffirmed the value of green and blue spaces”
These responses also highlighted how many people had been using spaces closer to home:
“I discovered so many places near to my home that I had not visited before. Footpaths I hadnt walked. I have previously spent more time in green spaces further away, but now I will be spending more time walking locally…”
“We have discovered places on our doorstep we never knew existed.”
99.2% of people reported that they will continue to access green and blue spaces after lockdown eases, and 98.4% of people reported they would be upset if their local green and blue spaces were lost to development, or shut down. 1 in 5 people wanted to see more woodland, wild areas and more wildlife in their local areas.
However, a small number of responses highlighted some issues they had found with using outdoors spaces during lockdown. 8% of people said they had decreased their use of outdoor spaces with the main reasons for this being worries around COVID-19 and overcrowded outdoor areas:
“It's a shame that some people don't respect these places e.g littering, dog-fouling and anti-social behaviour”
“My enjoyment of green and blue spaces have been impacted since lockdown has eased as people you meet out and about are some times not mindful of social distancing & this causes quite a lot of anxiety…”
The outdoor spaces that people have access to in their local area can vary greatly in quality and quantity. Given the potential for positive impacts from green and blue spaces, it is important to make sure these spaces remain accessible and safe for the public to use. 99.2% of respondents want to continue to access green and blue spaces after lockdown eases, and so maintaining these areas should be a priority in local areas.
Our results are in line with research that shows benefits in a number of areas, including increasing physical activity, improving wellbeing and mental health, reducing stress and developing a connection to nature (Maxwell & Lovell, 2017; Tilliman et al, 2018; Sheldrake et al, 2019; Corraliza et al, 2012; Chawla, 2015). Research has shown that even a short amount of time in these spaces can have benefits (White et al., 2019).
The negative impact of lockdown on mental health is becoming of increasing concern in the UK and outdoor, natural spaces appear to have been a coping mechanism for many people during this time. There remains an opportunity to research this further, and to help make green and blue spaces accessible for the public. We are currently undertaking further work to see if green and blue spaces are used differently during lockdown in winter months, and the subsequent impact of this on wellbeing.
A shareable evidence briefing is available here: https://bit.ly/376IymG
We are conducting a follow-up survey to find out more about how people have used Green & Blue spaces. If you would like to take part, here's the link: bit.ly/3iyiTIc