Accurate statistics for participation in outdoor sports are difficult to obtain. You don’t need to register to walk up a mountain or climb on a crag, and you don't need to be a member of the BMC to participate.
But the latest Active People Survey (APS) from Sport England suggests that around 246,000 people (aged 16+) go climbing or hill walking at least once a month and 77,000 take part at least once a week.
The BMC in numbers
BMC membership has grown from a total of about 25,000 in 1990 to over 75,000 currently. The number of individual members has doubled in recent years from 25,000 in 2000 to over 50,000 today. For a graph showing long-term growth in BMC membership since 2000 see the BMC annual report 2013 - download here (see page 6).
There are approximately 300 climbing and mountaineering clubs (including student clubs) affiliated to the BMC.
In 2010, the BMC carried out a BMC Membership Survey 2010. Of those who responded, 62% said hill walking was their top activity from a list of seven mountain-related activities.
Women in climbing
While climbing and hill walking are sometimes perceived in the media as largely male activities, the number of women participating is growing. The BMC has around 20,000 female members and they make up over 25% of the BMC’s membership. A 2006 BMC survey suggested the proportion of women increased from 16% to 25% from 2002 to 2006. Sport England’s current APS says 36% of those participating are women.
Climbing walls have transformed climbing, allowing those with limited access to the outdoors to participate. There are five million climbing wall user visits in the UK each year, at 350 public access climbing walls listed within the BMC wall directory. Very few of these are supported by any kind of public subsidy. A rough estimate suggests the number of public walls has increased from around 300 to 400 in the last five years. (Not all public walls are currently listed in our directory.) There are further climbing walls in schools, gyms and military establishments.
The number of young people taking part in the BMC Youth Climbing Series has risen by 50% in the last five years, from 494 in 2009 to over 740 in 2013. Around 100 climbers take part in the British Lead Climbing Championships and almost 200 compete in the British Bouldering Championships. Between 35 and 40 climbers have taken part in the BMC paraclimbing series every year since it started in 2010.
Mountaineering in schools
Mountaineering is on the up in schools, according to a survey showing that 14% of schools offered it as an activity in 2009-10, double the rate of six years ago.
Economic benefits of climbing and hill walking
The foot and mouth outbreak of 2001 showed just how big an impact outdoor activities have in remote upland areas of the UK when access to the hills and crags of Britain is curtailed. We would like to see more work done on the precise contribution climbing and hill walking make to the economy, but the Britain on Foot campaign has some useful indicators.
• The total £20bn outdoor economy, without associated supply and ancillary industries, represents 1.65% of the UK’s GDP.
• Twice as many people go walking on holiday compared to those visiting an amusement park, historic house or museum.
• In 2010, 71m nights were spent camping in Britain, making us the second-largest camping nation in Europe. That’s more than all B&B, guesthouse and self-catering nights combined.
• The outdoor economy is a vital part of the UK’s tourism sector, employing nine per cent of the nation’s workforce.
In Wales, a study by the Welsh Economy Research Unit published in 2011 revealed that in 2009 there were 28m walking-related trips to the Welsh countryside and coast. Expenditure associated with these walking and hill-walking trips was around £632m. Walking accounts for around 16% of Welsh tourism. Download pdf.
The potential benefits of increasing opportunities for outdoor recreation and improving access laws in Wales are many. It has been estimated that the cost of physical inactivity to Wales is around £650 million per year (Creating an Active Wales, 2009 - download pdf). However, only 37% of men and 24% of women in Wales are reported to meet their recommended levels of physical activity (British Heart Foundation, 2012).
The Sport & Recreation Alliance also has some useful research reports and facts and figures regarding particiation and the value of sport and recreation. It is currently undertaking a project, in association with Liverpool John Moores University, to pull together existing research to showcase the value of outdoor recreation to the UK and impress on government just how crucial many of the services the outdoor sector provides are in improving the health, wealth and happiness of Britain.