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Research LibrarySport & Economics

The Economic Impact of Outdoor Recreation in the UK

By 2 June 2020No Comments
Published: 2014, Updated 2017


The report aims to establish the value of the UK outdoor economy by providing a synthesis of existing information and evidence relating to economic impact of outdoor recreation. Outdoor recreation is taken to mean physical activities which take place in the natural environment, like walking, rowing, mountain climbing, or sky diving, but does not include purpose-built environments like football pitches or golf courses. Participation in outdoor recreation is explored for each nation including Scotland, after which the impact of the UK’s ‘visitor economy’ is examined in detail. Section 3 of the report focuses on employment and volunteering linked to outdoor recreation.


The report provides a synthesis of existing evidence. Information on outdoor recreation participation in Scotland is drawn from the Scottish Recreation Survey (ScRS), and the Scottish Opinion Survey. The UK’s visitor economy is explored using various sources, examining outdoor recreation as a driver of the visitor economy in the different nations, the impact of domestic and international tourism, the value of the ‘activity holiday’ market, ease of access to natural environments, and the impact of individual activities like angling and motorsport. A range of estimates are presented in the employment and volunteering section to build a fuller picture, providing estimates by sector and activity, as well as estimates on UK outdoor retail and manufacturing, and volunteering.

Key Findings

57% of the adult population in Scotland visit the natural environment at least once a month, whilst 42% visit at least once a week. The total spend associated with visits to the outdoors was estimated to be £2.6 billion. Nature-based tourism in Scotland was estimated to provide about £1.4 billion in income, and support 39,000 FTEs. The value of ‘activity holidays’ in the UK was measured to be £14 billion from domestic tourism and £23.8 billion from international tourism. An estimated 480,000 to 580,000 visits were made over a 12-month period to the Scottish coasts, with annual net expenditure estimated between £24-29 million. Campers and caravaners as a community are among the greatest consumers of outdoor recreation in the UK, contributing an estimated £40 million each year. Snowsports constitutes a particularly important sector for Scotland’s rural economy, directly supporting 634 jobs and contributing an estimated economic benefit of £30 million per annum. SkillsActive research estimated the GVA provided by the outdoor industry at £430 million.


There are challenges associated with placing an economic value on the natural environment, and it is reasonable to suggest such an approach offsets its true value and frames it as something completely different. However, providing something that can be measured can often be effective when trying to engage policymakers, and emphasising the economic benefit in tandem with its value to health and society can be persuasive. Members of the Sport and Recreation Alliance, representing over 300 governing bodies will be able to use the report to promote their activities and champion the contribution of outdoor recreation to the broader UK and Scottish economy.