Ten major outdoor organisations are presenting a united front in Westminster today to urge politicians of all stripes to reflect the benefits of outdoor recreation in their manifestos, and to back stronger conservation measures, improved public access and better rural public transport, ahead of next year's UK general election.
An event organised by the British Mountaineering Council (BMC) and the All Party Parliamentary Group for Mountaineering, co-chaired by David Rutley MP and John Mann MP, will highlight the social, health and economic benefits that outdoor recreation contributes. MPs and peers have been invited to make a date with outdoor representatives at the ‘speed-briefing’ to learn more about the outdoors and countryside conservation, subjects with which many of them are demonstrably unfamiliar.
The ten organisations, collectively representing over six million people with an interest in outdoor fun and countryside conservation, are: the Ramblers, the BMC, Campaign for National Parks, English Outdoor Council, Living Streets, Open Spaces Society, Outdoor Industries Association (Britain on Foot campaign), Sport and Recreation Alliance, Wild Network and the Youth Hostel Association.
They are asking political parties to back six proposals for government action on the outdoors to help realise the full potential that recreation and the conservation of our countryside can bring to the nation. Parliamentarians are being encouraged to show their support on social media using the hashtag #valueoutdoors. Here are the six policy proposals:
- Cross-government support for a long-term strategy on outdoor recreation
Introduce a fully resourced cross-government strategy with ministerial support to promote outdoor recreation.
- Increase opportunities for young people to get outside
Increase opportunities for young people to engage in outdoor learning in both school and non-school settings.
- Improve access to coast and countryside
Facilitate and promote public access to outdoor spaces including the coast, woodland and open countryside.
- Maximise the economic contribution of outdoor recreation
Maximise the economic contribution of outdoor recreation to the rural economy through targeted investment.
- Strengthen planning guidance and protect the outdoors
Strengthen the protection of areas valued for their natural beauty and recreational opportunities.
- Better public transport in rural areas
Invest in accessible and affordable public transport for residents and visitors to our countryside.
'Outdoor recreation makes a huge contribution towards supporting rural economies yet this value often goes overlooked. Political parties need to recognise this in their manifestos and invest in outdoor recreation. Whether it is building the England Coast path, supporting our national trails or opening up public woods, there are many ways they can support the outdoors economy, help rural businesses and build a healthier, happier Britain.'
To highlight the importance of their cause the organisations have mustered a barrage of impressive sounding figures. In the year from March 2012 to February 2013, the English adult population participated in an estimated 2.85 billion visits to the 'natural environment', they say, with a total visitor spend of £21bn. There's more. Just in the English countryside, walkers alone spend over £6bn a year, supporting up to 245,000 full time jobs. In Wales 28 million walking-related trips are made to the countryside and coast annually, and walkers spend £632m. In rural areas the £33bn tourism industry now accounts for 14% of employment and 10% of businesses. Since the start of the recession, a third of all jobs created have been in tourism.
Three in four adults in England regularly get active outdoors (though the definitions of both 'active' and 'outdoors' are broad). But research by the RSPB and University of Essex hints at a possible generational disconnect, suggesting that only 1 in 5 children under 12 have a ‘connection to nature’.
David Bond, who featured in the film Project Wild Thing and is a Director of the Wild Network, said:
'These joint proposals for government action on the outdoors act as an insurance policy for future generations. People who get outdoors and connect with nature as kids, grow into the adults who seek out outdoor thrills and remain curious about the natural world around them. By acting on these proposals, politicians can have a real and lasting impact on the way our children, and our children’s children, view and play with nature and the outdoors.'
Better investment in the outdoors wouldn't just help improve people's quality of life; it could be cost effective too. According to the campaigners, if everyone was given equal access to good quality green space the estimated saving to the NHS would be £2.1bn.