Your countryside needs you
It was Napoleon who originally called the British "a nation of shopkeepers" – one can only imagine the joy he'd have describing us as a nation of couch potatoes.
Not that we could do a thing about it in a libel court, for it seems we really are a bunch of stop-at-homes. Research has just established that the average person in this country spends 80 per cent of their lives indoors.
That might astonish many readers of this newspaper, but only because the majority live in the countryside. And it has been revealed that rural folk spend nearly 10 per cent more of their time being active outside than city-dwellers.
There are many other fascinating statistics in a new research study by the Ordnance Survey – such as the fact that nearly half the population say they wish to do a lot more country walking in future.
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But let's just get our bearings here, as they say in the mapping world. On the one hand, the average Brit spends a couch-potato-ish four-fifths of their time indoors while, at the same time, half the population intends doing a lot more marching over hill and dale.
If true, the two statistics paint a picture of good intentions that go the same way as most New Year resolutions.
Here's another odd factual dichotomy from the report – over 60 per cent of people declare they are willing to travel up to 50 miles to experience the 'Great Outdoors', but at the same time a not-inconsiderable one-in-20 say they would never dream of doing such a thing because they're worried about getting lost.
In these days when most mobile phones or digital tablet devices have a global positioning system (GPS) capability, I'm amazed that getting lost is still a concern.
Which brings us neatly to the reason why the OS commissioned the survey. The organisation has just launched its first mobile application, the OS MapFinder App, designed to "bring all the detail and reliability of the iconic and trusted paper maps to iPhone and iPad (iOS) devices."
Now, as a walks writer and countryman, I am only too keen to help promote anything that brings people out into our rural landscapes.
The "use it or lose it" rule applies to the natural environment just like everything else. For decades, politicians of all parties have been at best lukewarm when it comes to the issues facing our countryside and wilderness areas – and I'd argue that the present lot in power have the worst track record of the lot. They were biting at the bit to sell off publicly-owned forests – until there was a massive groundswell of angry public opinion. But imagine if politicians were able to hit back with a bank of statistics entitled: "We know you don't really care!"
I love the idea that half the population is determined to go on long country walks this year, but I also am appalled to learn (in the OS survey) just how few folk actually visit even our best landscape jewels like national parks.
"The Peak District, the Lake District, Snowdonia, the Scottish Highlands, the Pennines, the New Forest and the Cotswolds are much-loved, but rarely visited, according to our new study," states the OS report. Millions of us have never visited these areas."
But, as I say, statistics are strange things – and they can be interpreted one way or another or bent to make them say what you want. As an example, I'll give you another statistic released this very week. It is VisitEngland's finding that stargazing in Exmoor's national park has been named one of the top five British experiences.
The same research showed that 60 per cent of the population felt more proud than ever to be British, and that 20 per cent planned to take more breaks at home.
However, the report declares: "The national tourist board has also found evidence of a lack of knowledge about what is on offer in England."
To counter this, it has introduced yet another app which can be used on mobile phones.
It's called 101 Things To Do Before You Go Abroad and I can imagine what some of our present governing politicians would put on the list: "Go to see another development, square mile of concrete, shopping mall or industrial estate."
I know very few people who would like to do such a thing. But then, I do not believe we are a nation of couch potatoes. You only have to look at the massive popularity of wildlife and countryside TV programmes to know that, really, we are a nation of country-lovers.
The countryside is at our core – it is not at the beck and call of statistics. You can use a modern high-tech app to enjoy it, or you could be really old-fashioned and do something which I never do – and that is open the Bible…
"For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands." (Isaiah 55.12).