The Holme, children walking along waterfront with multiple boats in it. The house and parks in the background
The Holme, children walking along waterfront with boats in it - house in the background © Historic England DP104303
The Holme, children walking along waterfront with boats in it - house in the background © Historic England DP104303

ORVal: The Outdoor Recreation Valuation Tool

By Greg Smith, Research Fellow, and Brett Day, Professor of Environmental Economics, at the Land, Environment, Economics and Policy Institute (LEEP), Business School, University of Exeter

Outdoor recreation sites provide numerous benefits to individuals and society. In order to justify maintaining, enhancing or expanding outdoor recreation sites, at a time when local government budgets are so limited, policy-makers, planners and managers need to be able to quantify those benefits.

The ORVal (Outdoor Recreation Valuation) Tool is a map-based web application designed to help quantify the benefits of accessible outdoor recreation sites in England and Wales. It was developed by the Land, Environment, Economics and Policy (LEEP) Institute at the University of Exeter with support and funding from DEFRA.

ORVal provides three main functions:

  • Explore existing recreation sites
    Using the map interface users can click on individual parks, paths and beaches across England and Wales and view visitation and welfare value estimates for each site. In addition, users can view information on land cover, land uses, water margins, special designations and points of interest. As well as interacting at an individual site level users can also see summaries of visitation and welfare values aggregated to different scales such as local authorities, catchments, national parks or even the whole of England and Wales.
  • Alter existing sites
    Users can estimate how visitation and welfare values might change if the characteristics (for example, the size or land cover of a site) were changed.
  • Create new recreation sites
    Users can draw new recreation sites on the map, define their characteristics and estimate the visitation and welfare values that might be generated by creating a new park or path in that particular location.

The benefits of recreation sites in ORVal are presented as the number of visits and the welfare value of the sites. Welfare values are used in economics as a measure of wellbeing expressed in money amounts. In ORVal the welfare values are estimates of the wellbeing that individuals derive from visiting the outdoor recreation sites.

To estimate the values and visits we created a sophisticated statistical model of recreation demand based on six years of data from the Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment (MENE) survey. We assume that when an individual is observed to have taken a trip to enjoy a recreation site, the welfare of taking a trip at that time exceeds the welfare of doing something entirely different (say watching the TV or going shopping). Likewise when an individual is observed to visit to one particular recreational site, we assume that the welfare derived from that visit exceeds the welfare that would be enjoyed from visiting an alternative site.

The model adjusts its predictions according to a number of factors, most particularly the socioeconomic characteristics of people, the day of the week, the month of the year, the attributes of a green space and the availability and qualities of alternative green spaces. However, while the model captures many important features that influence the value and visitation to greenspace it is not able to account for each park's unique characteristics or heritage. Rather, the figures provided by ORVal should be interpreted as indicating what we might expect for a typical greenspace with the given features in this location accounting for the availability of other green space and the characteristics of local population.

One way we hope to improve ORVal in the future is through a partnership with Historic England. We would like to incorporate the cultural or historic significance as a characteristic of a recreation site which would enable us to better predict the visitation and welfare value of those sites.

Please share and comment

Join the debate on Twitter: #parksmatter or send your responses to Sarah Tunnicliffe and share this article on social media via the tab on the left.