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We are growing increasingly aware of the importance of interacting with nature, be that through a relaxing walk, beautiful views, or climbing high mountains. But what actually makes us go where we go… and how can we measure it?

In this paper, we compared two sources of data to understand what makes people interact with specific parts of the natural world in England. The first, information about recent visits to the natural world from a socio-demographically representative survey, tells us about the places people go to on a day-to-day basis. The second, the number of photographs from Flickr at a given location, tells us about the places people travel to.

We found that for day-to-day activities such as dog walking and visiting local parks, environmental characteristics such as landscape diversity and amount of forested and agricultural land near where people live are most important. For the places people travel to, protected landscapes like England’s National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty come out top.

For local green-space planning, representative surveys about recent visits provide useful insights allowing us to make recommendations. In contrast, ‘big’ social media data, such as those from Flickr, can provide information about the landscape characteristics that drive interaction with nature at more regional scales. It is, however, important to consider whether the socio-demographic makeup of social media users might bias these findings!