Will your new MSPs support Scotland's outdoors?

Next month's Scottish elections are already shaping up to be unusual, with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic meaning that just walking to the polling station won’t be possible for many people.

At the same time, the Covid era has challenged many of our certainties and priorities, perhaps giving some of us an opportunity to re-set our ways of living - and understanding what really is important to ourselves and our communities.

It’s become very clear that many people have recognised that being in nature and being active outdoors are crucial for our health and wellbeing.

The stats clearly show that people across Scotland have been voting with their feet. A NatureScot survey showed that 80% of Scots visited the outdoors at least once a week last summer, up from 64% in summer 2019. Meanwhile, Cycling Scotland recorded a whopping 47% rise in levels of cycling since March 2020, compared to the previous 12 months.

And then there’s the huge number of people staying in Scotland for their holidays in 2020 – and very likely for at least this summer too – with the well-publicised impacts in certain areas which didn’t have the infrastructure to cope.

Often these problems were the consequence of years of underinvestment which has led to the closure of toilets, loss of low-cost campsites, lack of parking places and poor path maintenance, all exacerbated by the sheer numbers of people who just wanted to get away and enjoy the outdoors.

While the pandemic has been a time of much sorrow, anxiety and restrictions for most of us, it has also shone a light on the outdoor sector in a way which we couldn’t have predicted a year ago. It’s important that we take this opportunity to ensure that we learn from the past and build a better future.

To help make this happen, Ramblers Scotland has jointly published a Manifesto for the Outdoors alongside eleven other outdoor organisations as part of the Scottish Outdoor Recreation Alliance (SORA).

Together, we want to encourage politicians to ensure that outdoor recreation is fully supported, so that everyone across Scotland shares the benefits of being active in the natural environment; particularly as we re-build the economy after the pandemic. The manifesto sets out how to deliver our vision in a practical way.

What are we asking for?

  • An Outdoor Recreation Champion within government to ensure all divisions understand the role outdoor recreation can play in delivering their policies.
  • 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.
  • A standalone fund for outdoor recreation, including paths and signage.

Investment is important

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 £8.1million a year. Much of this funding doesn’t even get through to the access team, but is spent on other local authority priorities and has led to the loss of access officers and ranger services.

We understand that each authority is facing budgetary pressures, but money for countryside access, parks and greenspace is preventative spend, bringing back far more benefits to society than the fairly modest sums involved. Along with improved health, walking tourism alone contributes £1.26 billion to the Scottish economy and this is particularly beneficial for rural communities.

The Scottish Government has responded to the situation by setting up a series of working groups who have developed a 10-year visitor management strategy, helping to guide a nationwide response to the expected rush to the countryside this summer.

But the strategy also creates a longer-term vision for sustainable tourism, including education on responsible access and helping to embed a lifelong relationship with the outdoors. Our job now is to make sure that this strategy doesn’t get forgotten about as the new MSPs take up their roles.

How you can get involved

We all have a role in making our vision a reality. During the campaign period we’d love it if Ramblers members and others who enjoy the outdoors could help spread the messages in our manifesto.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Send an email to your local candidates with a copy of the manifesto, asking them to support its key messages. Find out who your candidates are here.
  • If your Ramblers group is running Covid-secure group walks, consider inviting a different candidate out to join you on each one.
  • Take part in the hustings being organised by ScotWays to discuss this manifesto on Friday 16 April at 12.00. No need to register, just watch the Facebook event from home, but you can also submit questions in advance.

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.

Download the full manifesto.