Investing in the great outdoors is the in thing

Scots should be encouraged to get out and explore the outdoors. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Scots should be encouraged to get out and explore the outdoors. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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Spending on National Recreation Areas makes sense, writes Helen Todd

Mountains, lochs, glens, forests and a superb coastline – the number one attraction for visitors to Scotland is our scenery and landscape. Scotland’s natural heritage also provides an amazing setting for outdoor recreation.

Whether your favourite pastime is cross-country skiing, sea kayaking, cycle touring or just going for a gentle stroll, all these activities and more are backed up by enlightened access legislation, providing a firm foundation for the promotion and management of any number of outdoor activities. This can also potentially make it much easier for local authorities to improve conditions for us all to walk and cycle on short journeys, whether to school, the shops or to work, and help us be more active as part of our daily lives.

We believe that this combination of an outstanding natural environment and world-class public access rights are something we should be capitalising on even more, to transform the culture of our country so that everyone in Scotland, from all backgrounds, is inspired and encouraged to get outdoors and be more active, more often. Everyone should feel they belong in our countryside and greenspaces and value our landscapes and wildlife, enjoying the many benefits of being active outdoors.

There are so many benefits to be gained, with a growing recognition of the especially healing qualities of being outdoors in the natural world. Being more physically active reduces risk factors for a whole range of diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and strokes, but being active in a natural environment also adds to our sense of wellbeing and can help to address mental health issues such as depression.

But these benefits are not spread equitably across all of society, with those living in areas of deprivation particularly missing out. Government research shows that those from the most deprived areas live further away from any accessible, quality greenspace and have lower levels of participation in sport or physical activity.

Ramblers Scotland believes that paving the way for more people to be active outdoors will reap huge dividends and is part of the preventative spend agenda, helping to save the NHS money in the long run.

Government policy on physical activity is already strong, but the pace of change is too slow. The number of people visiting the outdoors has remained stable over the past ten years, with just under half of adults making weekly trips.

Politicians need to show leadership and help provide the conditions for a step change in behaviour and culture to happen, spreading the benefits across all of society.

Our manifesto sets out numerous ideas to make this happen. We’re calling for increased investment in outdoor recreation to make the countryside welcoming for all. This means more funding for paths and bridges, signage and promotion. It also means local authorities upholding access rights to remove obstructions and intimidatory signs. We’re also calling for greater protection for our world-famous landscapes which provide such an inspirational setting for recreation, and a new designation of National Recreation Areas to better promote places which offer world-class opportunities, whether it’s surfing, climbing or mountain biking.

We recognise we’re living in times of austerity, but the funding needed to bring Scotland up to an appropriate standard is relatively modest and is a long term investment in a more healthy, active population. And let’s not forget people spend money when enjoying the outdoors, with Scottish Natural Heritage estimating £2.6 billion of expenditure in 2012 related to recreation.

A more active population engaged with the natural world would be good for our health, our environment, for social justice and also for the economy. Are our politicians ready to take that next step?

• Helen Todd is campaigns & policy manager at Ramblers Scotland, www.ramblers.org.uk/scotland

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