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Network of walking and cycling trails across Scotland provides £1.9 billion boost

By John Davidson

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People exercising beside the Forth and Clyde canal, Glasgow. Picture: Lorne Gill/NatureScot
People exercising beside the Forth and Clyde canal, Glasgow. Picture: Lorne Gill/NatureScot

Walkers and cyclists have helped boost local economies by £1.9 billion , according to a new report on the impact of a national network of trails.

Users of Scotland’s National Walking and Cycling Network (NWCN) also found the paths helped them to improve their health and wellbeing.

The NWCN includes Scotland’s Great Trails – a collection of long-distance paths including the Great Glen Way – the National Cycle Network and Scottish Canals towpaths and stretches 6879km across the country.

Now, a new report from NatureScot, Sustrans and Scottish Canals demonstrates the benefits of the network for the economy, tourism, health and wellbeing.

It shows that walkers and cyclists made 145.1 million trips on the network in 2019, spending almost £2 billion and supporting around 27,500 jobs.

Use of the routes and the associated reduction in car travel is estimated to have contributed a further £108 million to the economy, most significantly through improvements to health outcomes.

Walking and cycling trips on the network are estimated as taking 19.5 million car journeys off the road over the year, saving 7.1 million kg of carbon dioxide emissions.

Meanwhile, the vast majority of recreational bikers and hikers said the network had helped them to increase their physical activity (84 per cent), improve their wellbeing (75 per cent) and boost their overall life satisfaction (93 per cent).

John Lauder, Deputy CEO of Sustrans, said: “The rise in walking, wheeling and cycling over the past number of months has demonstrated huge public appetite to make happier and healthier journey choices across Scotland.

“Many people, regardless of age or ability, have discovered their local active travel routes for the first time. We now have a huge opportunity to maintain this momentum and deliver a fair, prosperous and green recovery for everyone in Scotland.

“This report demonstrates the huge environmental, health and economic benefits of investing in walking, wheeling and cycling. Bold, long-term support and backing is now needed to build upon this positive shift towards active journey choices.”

Since 2015, NatureScot, Sustrans and Scottish Canals have been working together on a programme of improvements to the network, spending £30 million on improving 625km of strategic walking and cycling routes.

Work has included upgrading and resurfacing routes, improving links with public transport, bridge building, signposting, removing stiles and replacing gates, installing benches and improving lighting.

Francesca Osowska, NatureScot chief executive, said: “This research demonstrates the enormous benefits – and huge potential – of the National Walking and Cycling Network for local communities and users alike.

“Covid-19 has led to a surge in the number of people accessing the great outdoors close to home, reinforcing the need to build on that potential. The report also highlights the important role that active travel can play as a nature-based solution to climate change.

“At NatureScot we are making a significant investment in the network to support a green recovery from the pandemic, tackle climate change and help more people enjoy the outdoors, particularly those groups that are currently under-represented.

“Most recently this includes almost £111,000 to make improvements on several of Scotland’s Great Trails, improving access for all.”

Catherine Topley, CEO of Scottish Canals said: “This report showcases the value of the National Walking and Cycling Network in tackling climate change and improving health across Scotland.

“At Scottish Canals we are determined to deliver sustainable walking and cycling routes along our canal towpaths by future-proofing our infrastructure with projects such as Stockingfield Bridge in North Glasgow. Our bold and ambitious plans for the canal network will allow the people of Scotland to travel coast to coast along our towpaths whilst enjoying nature along the way.”

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