Forests and Human Health June-20-2012

Current research

Nature-based recreation monitoring in finland

Nature-based recreation monitoring studies offer knowledge-based possibilities to assess health benefits gained from forests

Marjo Neuvonen and Tuija Sievänen
Finnish Forest Research Institute (Metla)

Nature-based recreation is part of the Finnish way of life. Metla’s new results show that 96% of the adult population visit nature during a year, and the average number of visits is 170 (median 122), which means 2–3 times a week. Walking for pleasure or fitness is the most common activity (70% participate). Most people have good possibilities to visit nature, since the average distance to the forest close-to-home is only 700 meters, and the everyman’s rights offer the common right to access the forests. Other popular activities include swimming in natural waters (70% participate), spending time in nature including sunbathing, looking at the scenery, picknicking (68%), nature studies, e.g. sightseeing in nature, observing nature, studying birds, nature painting or photography (62%), picking wild berries (58%), cycling (55%), boating (49%), fishing (44%), and picking mushrooms (40%). Many of these activities are to some extent related to the popularity of spending time at the cottage (65% of people, 38 days per year on average). In wintertime, cross-country skiing is a traditional activity, in which 42% of the adult population participates.

Participation in outdoor recreation has not changed much in the last ten years. Some activities are increasing in popularity, though: spending time at the cottage or recreation home, gathering small wood, forest work in leisure time, camping in backcountry, bird watching and other nature studies, running, rock climbing.

It appears that people today have a larger scale of activities than before. Only a few activities have decreased in popularity, such as fishing and roller boarding. The most important forest-related, traditional activities are picking wild berries and mushrooms. Against expectations their popularity is on the rise. Also, the oldest age group (65–74) is now participating in outdoor recreation more actively than ten years ago. This suggests that they are today physically fitter, partly perhaps because of their activity in nature.

In Finland, we are doing monitoring studies of nature-based recreation, and we have trend information on a large number of issues concerning recreational use of natural resources, particularly forest resources. Systematic monitoring of outdoor recreation started at the end of the 1990s. Metsähallitus is responsible for monitoring the visits to national parks and state owned recreation areas.

For national level monitoring the principal method is a population survey with a large sample of 15–74 year old Finns. The national outdoor recreation demand inventory (LVVI) has been conducted two times in 1998–2000 and 2009–2010. The methodology has been designed to produce comparable information across time. It includes e.g. participation rates and frequencies of 86 recreational activities, characteristics of close-to-home recreation occasions and nature trips, and the use of different types recreation areas.

Outdoor Recreation Statistics 2000 and 2011 are available here:

Photographs by Erkki Oksanen.

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