The consultation is being run by the Countryside Agency on behalf of Defra. It seeks people's views on a draft action plan that aims, over a 10 year period, to increase the number of people from these groups who choose to make use of the outdoor recreational opportunities that exist in both rural and urban areas.
The draft plan proposes new ways of working, both with the organisations providing outdoor recreation opportunities, and with the under-represented groups, so that the objective of increasing participation can be achieved.
Barry Gardiner, minister for biodiversity, landscape and rural affairs, will launch a consultation exercise Outdoors for All?.
Mr Gardiner said: 'The action plan is all about working in partnership to show what the British countryside has to offer everyone. People are not making the most of even their local urban green spaces never mind the wider countryside. We need to know why and what we can do to encourage them.
'Being outdoors brings so many benefits - from a sense of well being and inspiration, to exercise and learning about the natural environment. Not to mention the new business opportunities that increased visitors bring.
'I am determined that we should do everything possible to give people of all ages and from all walks of life equal opportunity to enjoy and benefit from outdoor activities.'
Andrew Wood, Countryside Agency director, said: 'There are millions of people up and down the country who are not currently enjoying the sense of freedom and the wide range of health benefits that visiting the countryside can bring - in either a deeply rural area or the green space closer to most people's homes.
'While it is not our responsibility to make people visit the countryside, it is our job to ensure everyone is aware of what the outdoors can offer them and give people every opportunity to enjoy it.'
The consultation exercise extends until 30 September 2006. The consultation document will be available here.
Those without internet access can call the Defra helpline on 08459 33 55 77 or the postal address The Outdoor Recreation Team, Sponsorship, Landscape and Recreation Division, Defra Zone 1/04 Temple Quay House 2 The Square Temple Quay Bristol BS1 6EB
1.Demographic profiles show that currently, countryside visitors are mostly aged between 35-54 with a relatively high income (social groups A, B and C1) and who travel by car (State of the Countryside Report 2005).
2.The Rural White Paper 2000 committed the government to undertake a review to find out why certain groups of people visit the countryside less often than others and to produce an action plan. The main under-represented groups are young people, black and ethnic minorities, disabled people and people from disadvantaged areas.
3.The Countryside Agency were asked by Defra, to undertake a diversity review to gather robust evidence about the needs of groups who are under-represented amongst visitors to the countryside, and the awareness of those needs by providers of recreational activities. Research undertaken as part of the review indicates that, with limited exceptions, under-represented groups are not well served by some providers of countryside recreation, who can lack the confidence to engage with them. The research also shows that where these groups are given opportunities to see for themselves what countryside has to offer, they continue to visit. The research is available on the Countryside Agency's website at www.countryside.gov.uk/diversity
4.The White Paper also promised an action plan, the objective of which is to increase the number of people from under-represented groups who take part in outdoor recreation, and increase their knowledge of where they can go and what they can do when they get there. A draft action plan has been produced and is the subject of this consultation exercise. A final action plan will be produced early next year. It will apply only to England.
5.English Nature, the Rural Development Service and the Countryside Agency's Landscape, Access and Recreation division are working towards integration as a single body: Natural England. Natural England will work for people, places and nature with responsibility for enhancing biodiversity, landscapes and wildlife in rural, urban, coastal and marine areas; promoting access, recreation and public wellbeing, and contributing to the way natural resources are managed - so they can be enjoyed now and for future generations. Natural England will come into formal existence on 1 October 2006.