There is a growing recognition of the ways that green open space contributes to the quality of the urban environment and to human health and well-being (Burgess et al., 1988, Kaplan and Kaplan, 1989; Berger 1996). Open-air recreation and access to outdoor spaces is an important part of many people's daily lives; outdoor activity provides scope for exercise, relaxation, refreshment, escape from the everyday and a chance to form social relationships (Macnaghten and Urry, 2000). Yet there is widespread concern over the health of our urbanised society and a desire to understand better the cultural and social dimensions of access to environments which can contribute to better health and well-being. Government organisations in the UK have highlighted health problems such as obesity faced by a population increasingly at risk from physical inactivity (Countryside Agency, 2001, Physical Activity Task Force, 2002) and pointed out that such behaviour may reflect patterns established in school-aged children. A key issue in this appears to be access to the outdoor environment (Countryside Agency, 2001) and in particular the decrease in independent use of public space for younger teenagers and primary school children (Hillman, Adams and Whitelegg 1990). The patterns of access to public space are also influenced by locality, gender and ethnicity, with girls and teenagers from minority ethnic groups appearing to be more restricted in their use of public urban space (Greenfield et al. 2000). This paper presents original research from two empirical studies into green open space, social values and patterns of use in the UK. Personal construct psychology (Kelly, 1955) is used as the basis for exploring the transactional relationship which people have with their environment and Canter’s (1977) framework for the components of ‘place’ provides a structure for examining certain questions: who are the people from urban communities, large and small, using nearby green and woodland spaces as places to visit, why do they visit and what benefits do they believe they get from it; what makes the difference between them choosing to visit or not? Qualitative and quantitative data were collected using projective methods and drawing on Facet Theory (Donald 1995). Regression, principal component and cluster analysis techniques used on the questionnaire data revealed that the frequency of childhood visits to woodlands and similar kinds of open space is the single most important predictor of how often people visited woodlands as adults. In addition, the perceptions and behaviours of those who visited natural and woodland areas frequently as children were significantly different from those with different childhood behaviours. For example, those who visited woodlands often as children were more likely to go walking alone there as adults. The research builds on existing work demonstrating the importance of children’s contact with the natural environment for their social and cognitive development (Valentine and McKendrick, 1997; Kong, 2000). It raises important questions about health and outdoor activity for those who do not get the opportunity to experience green open space freely as children. It demonstrates techniques which can be effective in understanding the social dimensions of green space access and points to key areas where changes in policy might make a difference to social inclusion.