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Scottish Outdoor Recreation Alliance calls for new 'outdoors champion' to encourage inclusive access

By John Davidson

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Helen Todd of Ramblers Scotland.
Helen Todd of Ramblers Scotland.

A champion of the outdoors is needed to help Scotland capitalise on the enthusiasm for being active in nature, according to a number of organisations.

The dozen outdoor groups have joined forces to call on the Scottish Government to create an 'outdoors recreation champion' whose role would involve ensuring that everyone in society can benefit from being outside.

It comes after last summer's post-lockdown boom in numbers of people heading to popular outdoor locations including many across the Highlands and Islands.

The restrictions have also hit the outdoor activity sector, particularly centres whose business revolved around welcoming school groups and others for residential experiences.

The suggested new governmental role is one of several ideas in a joint manifesto published by the Scottish Outdoor Recreation Alliance (SORA), which aims to support the booming demand for the outdoors.

SORA’s Manifesto for the Outdoors also calls for:

  • A guarantee that every primary and secondary school pupil has at least one week away at an outdoor centre
  • Long-term strategic investment in infrastructure such as facilities, ranger services, education and skills training
  • More support for BAME communities and people in deprived areas to engage with the outdoors
  • The creation of a standalone fund for outdoor recreation, including paths and signage.

SORA member Helen Todd, Ramblers Scotland’s policy manager, said that recruiting an outdoor recreation champion would help all government departments – from health and tourism to the economy and equalities – capitalise on the surge in outdoor recreation.

Ms Todd said: “We need an outdoor recreation champion working across government departments to ensure that everyone throughout Scotland shares the benefits – and pleasure – of being active in the natural environment.

“Scotland has been great at marketing our amazing scenery and outdoor activities – but this hasn’t been matched by investment. Indeed, the Scottish Government’s funding for access has flatlined for more than a decade at £8.1 million a year.

“SORA’s Manifesto for the Outdoors offers a hopeful and practical vision of a more inclusive outdoors – which will benefit the economy, environment, local communities and everyone’s health and wellbeing, as part of a green recovery from Covid.”

The manifesto was developed by Ramblers Scotland, British Horse Society, Cycling UK in Scotland, Mountaineering Scotland, ScotWays and Scottish Canoe Association. It is also supported by the Outward Bound Trust, Scottish Adventure Activities Forum, Scottish Countryside Rangers Association, Scottish Wild Land Group, HorseScotland and Scottish Orienteering.

Richard Barron, chief operating officer at ScotWays.
Richard Barron, chief operating officer at ScotWays.

ScotWays' chief operating officer Richard Barron said: “Last summer, with the release of long-pent-up demand, we saw unprecedented, chaotic and hugely disruptive pressure of visitors seeking to enjoy Scotland’s countryside. Sadly, that pressure was made more acute by the damaging behaviour of a minority, ranging from simple ignorance of responsible access to blatant criminality.

"To avoid a repeat of that chaos this summer, there is an urgent need for education, but also for information and infrastructure to help people make the right choices.

“The SORA manifesto is packed with ideas about how to improve the experience of visitors to Scotland's countryside."

You can read the full manifesto at www.ramblers.org.uk/SORAmanifesto

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