It analysed 18,000 responses to its People and Nature survey from April to December 2020 and found that parks and gardens were of growing importance for physical and mental health, as well as for connecting with other people.
The most popular activity was walking but there was a notable appreciation for calm activities, such as ‘pottering’ in the garden, sitting and chatting.
Natural England says this suggests a need to ‘change the narrative’ around activities in green spaces so it embraces the full range of things that people do and enjoy. This in turn could help engage people who are currently less likely to enjoy spending time in nature.
The main reasons for spending time in a garden were for mental health, to get fresh air and to do gardening.
For people from lower income families, there was ‘a strong connection’ between spending time in a garden or urban parks and benefits to mental health during Covid.
However, inequalities of access to a garden or nearby green space remain a challenge, say the report’s authors.
Another barrier to spending time outdoors for one in 10 people surveyed was illness or poor physical health.
One way that connecting with nature increased during the pandemic was digitally. Data from social media indicates virtual representations of nature were of greater importance.
Natural England says this could prove ‘hugely beneficial’ for people who are physically unable to enjoy gardens, parks and woodlands.