Soaring numbers of Scots got back into their cars and headed off for trips of 20 miles or more as lockdown restrictions were eased earlier this year, data indicates.

A survey of more than 1,100 people commissioned by NatureScot, the public body responsible for the country’s natural heritage, suggests growing concern over noise and pollution, with vehicles parked on pavements also emerging as a problem for respondents.

The findings are contained in figures that compare outdoor visits and engagement during the March-May period following lockdown with trends over a four-week stretch from mid-August, when curbs had reduced.

They show that overall levels of participation rose, with four-fifths of adults visiting the outdoors at least once a week – up from 71 per cent during March-May.

However, the figures also reveal 59% of respondents told survey teams they had travelled by car or another mode of transport over the AugustSeptember period.

This compares to just 27% in March-May. Meanwhile, the figure for those saying they had normally only walked declined from 73% to 41%.

There was also a huge increase in the percentage of those who had travelled more than 20 miles when heading out – from 4% to 25%.

The recorded jump in car use coincided with a fall in the figure for respondents who agreed “strongly” that they had noticed a reduction in pollution in their local area. This dropped from 25% to 17%.

The corresponding statistic for noise levels slumped from 31% to 19%.

Gavin Thomson, Friends Of The Earth Scotland air pollution campaigner, said: “As traffic has increased since the summer months, so have the levels of toxic air pollution and people will have noticed this deterioration.

“This is very concerning, as vulnerability to Covid-19 is linked with levels of air pollution. Emissions from traffic cause or worsen many of the heart and lung conditions that put people at greater risk from the virus.

“Traffic levels are close to where they were this time last year, but the types of traffic has changed a great deal. Many of us are working from home, so the morning and evening commutes and their resulting pollution have reduced.

“But many people are also likely to have been driving further for days out and ‘staycation’ weekends away, so we might expect to see slightly worse pollution in rural areas due to increased traffic.”

Mr Thomson added the “relationship between Covid-19 and air pollution should focus our attention into moving to a clean, sustainable transport system that protects human health and helps people explore Scotland”.

The latest figures also highlight a lingering pverty divide, with those in the 10 per cent “most deprived” category – as defined by the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation – far less likely than wealthier respondents to have enjoyed outdoor participation at least daily or once a week.

However, an increased proportion reported that, after spending time outdoors, they felt they had gained health and wellbeing benefits.

Seventy per cent believed it helped them to de-stress, relax and unwind – up from 63% for March-May.

Peter Rawcliffe, head of the people and places activity at NatureScot, said: “More people are travelling to visit the outdoors than we have picked up in previous years, which is positive overall.

“But what we’ve seen also are more cars because people are being advised not to car-share. Car parks have also been very full because there are more cars and more visitors.

“The other factor is that the number of people making use of public transport has declined over the period.

“We need to have the structures in place to allow sustainable travel choices and that’s one of the things we want to do in Scotland – provide opportunities to enjoy the outdoors but also provide more opportunities on our public transport network and through active travel to make those visits more sustainable.

“On the issue of outdoor access for those in disadvantaged communities, we’re working with local authorities and Public Health Scotland to focus action on those communities through providing activities such as health walks.”