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The past few years have seen a step change in pop culture and consumer culture. Camping used to be for scouts and hardy rambler types. Caravanning was up there with wearing socks under sandals. Smallholding was once a strugglesome form of subsistence farming.
Foraging for food was an anachronism. Allotments were a way for people to grow their own fruit and vegetables. Such pastimes and projects had nothing to do with metropolitan notions of what’s cool.
Lately, media coverage and other trends have transformed such things into lifestyle choices. We’re calling this trend Back to Nature.
Increase in domestic holidays
There is a growing trend for taking multiple short breaks and additional holidays. Although UK residents spend more on countryside holidays overseas than in England, there is still a very strong demand for domestic rural tourism.
UK adults take 14 million holidays to the English countryside each year, over half of which are short stays of three nights or less. 1.1 billion day trips are also taken in the countryside.
Added to this is an increasing interest and awareness of the countryside, rural heritage and conservation, seen through the increased membership of groups like the National Trust and RSPB.
The National Trust now has the second largest membership database in the UK (3.5m) after the AA and 50m people visited the Trust’s open-air properties in 2004. Visit Britain expects this growing interest to further fuel demand for domestic breaks.
Camping and caravanning have also been transformed. There has been increased media coverage of camping as a cool thing to do. Celebrity news has covered Kate Moss staying in a mate’s caravan at this year’s Bestival on the Isle of Wight. The book “Cool Camping” has expanded into a series.
The Camping and Caravanning Club has seen a massive increase in membership, claiming 70,000 new joiners last year. The average age of members has dropped from 60 to 49 as a result. TGI substantiates this rise in interest, showing a steep rise in the number of fashion victims taking camping holidays between 2002-06 and 2007.
This has been capitalised upon by brands such as Cath Kidston, Orla Kiely and Ted Baker, who have successfully broken into the function-led outdoor market.
Last year, camping holidays accounted for one in eight of all holidays taken in the UK. According to the Camping & Caravanning Club, camping's new popularity has also been aided by advances in tent design, caravan luxury and even sleeping bag comfort. You can now take a reasonable standard of accommodation wherever you go.
The new campers are broadly divided into two tribes: family campers, and festival campers, though the appeal to both is similar. "Camping is fun, it's adventurous, and it's quite humorous - you're guaranteed that something will go wrong” according to Cath Kidston.
Living off the land
But this return to nature is not just about holidays. ‘Compacters’ are becoming more visible – people who are trying to reduce or change their level of everyday consumption. Foraging for food, from plants to roadkill, was made famous in a TV series by Fergus Drennan.
Foraging for mushrooms was explained in a free pamphlet released by the Guardian and written by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Fearnley-Whittingstall works across platforms, having made his name with a likeable TV show about his and his family’s adventures going back to the land, and a series of his River Cottage books.
It’s also possible to learn about bushcraft through Ray Mears’ books and Woodlore network.
In 1998 a House of Commons select committee found that demand for allotments had been in decline since the Second World War, yet in recent years local authorities all over Britain have been unable to meet demand. Waiting lists over two years long now obtain in some parts of London. Reports note that uptake has come from both new migrants and middle class enthusiasts
Conservation, self-sufficiency, foodie culture, an interest in heritage are just a few other trends that fuel this one. Another is globalisation – with the world on our doorstep, our backyard have become much more interesting.
The increasing influence of the media has also contributed significantly. Given this and its many sources of energy, Back to Nature will continue to figure for at least another eighteen months to two years.
For feedback and comment please contact: Michael.Tully@omduk.com
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