The most striking feature of outdoor recreation in Norway is its variety – people enjoy everything from a quiet stroll near home to cycling, bathing, mountaineering and white-water canoeing. The most popular activities are less strenuous pursuits that require little in the way of equipment and other resources.
A varied picture
The main patterns of outdoor recreation in Norway – including its diversity – have been relatively stable for the past 20 years. However, a closer look reveals a number of conflicting trends.
On a positive note, people of 55 and over are much more active now than they were in the 1970s. The trend for young people (aged 16–24) has been causing concern because of a sharp drop in participation in traditional outdoor activities.
The 2013 survey of living conditions by Statistics Norway showed that the decrease in the proportion of young people taking part in outdoor activities continues. In 2001, 97 percent of young people between 16-24 years took part in outdoor life activities, while the figure was 91 percent in 2011.
For the oldest age groups, participation in most activities appears to have stagnated or dropped. But encouragingly, a large proportion of the youngest children (6–15 years old) are active – in fact, they show a higher level of participation in outdoor recreation than adults.
Outdoor recreation for a better life
People who use the outdoors are more likely to appreciate the importance of safeguarding the natural environment. Outdoor recreation also improves people's physical and mental health. Recent research shows that even a moderate level of activity (for example a regular half-hour walk to work) has a positive effect. Research also shows that living close to nature and green spaces has a positive health effect.
Access to the countryside under pressure
Access rights are of fundamental importance for outdoor recreation in Norway, but are under pressure today for a number of reasons. For instance, there have been cases where charges are introduced for access to areas that have traditionally been open to everyone, other areas are privatised when barriers and buildings are erected, and adventure tourism activities may hinder access for other people.
Another crucial factor is the provision of opportunities for children and young people to lead an active outdoor life. They spend a great deal of their time on organised activities nowadays, and this could result in a long-term decline in outdoor recreation, which in turn might have negative effects on people’s health and weaken interest in environmental issues.
People of all ages need access to areas that are suitable for outdoor recreation – near their homes, along the coast, in the forests and in the mountains. And these areas are more likely to be used if the environmental quality is high – if visitors can experience peace and quiet, for example, and if the water is clean and there is no litter on the beach.
Safeguarding outdoor recreation areas
To keep up Norway’s outdoor recreation traditions, we need to:
- maintain access rights to the countryside
- safeguard outdoor recreation areas
- maintain people's interest in outdoor activities.
In Norway, everyone is entitled to access to and passage across uncultivated land. This means that you can walk in the mountains and forests, go skiing in winter, and cycle, toboggan and ride on paths and tracks. Access rights are described in the Outdoor Recreation Act.
An important part of Norway’s outdoor recreation policy is to make sure that people have opportunities to use the outdoors and easy access to outdoor recreation areas. Many areas are set aside for outdoor recreation with financial assistance from the state. The Directorate for Nature Management is the government agency responsible for this work.
Voluntary organisations play an important part in providing access and facilities for outdoor activities and in encouraging and promoting outdoor recreation. Norway has a large number of organisations catering for a wide variety of interests. The authorities provide some funding and grants for their activities.
The education system
The curricula for primary and lower secondary schools and for day-care centres include opportunities for outdoor recreation activities as part of the school day. A number of initiatives have been taken to integrate outdoor activities into the education system. One of the larger-scale initiatives is "The sustainable backpack" project.