As the general election draws closer, Britain’s mountaineering councils are issuing a unified call to protect and support the countryside and people’s access to it.
Ahead of 7 May, the British Mountaineering Council (BMC) and the Mountaineering Council of Scotland (MCofS) are challenging politicians to recognise the huge value of outdoor recreation in their manifestos and policies, while also understanding the need to protect the special qualities of the outdoors for the benefit of all.
The two councils together cover England, Wales and Scotland and represent 90,000 members. Both organisations are campaigning for greater protection for our natural landscapes and for greater recognition of the health and economic benefits they offer:
The MCofS says that the proportion of Scotland from which built development could not be seen has dropped by two fifths in 11 years, from 41% in 2002 to 27% in 2013 – an immense change in Scotland’s landscape. Whilst the remaining wild land has been officially mapped by Scottish Natural Heritage and recognised in national planning policy, the MCofS argues that it still does not have sufficient protection.
The MCofS has published a vision, ‘Respecting Scotland’s Mountains’, calling for a coherent, integrated national policy that defines what can, and cannot, be done in such areas in the future.
It argues that Scotland’s mountains and remaining wild lands should be treated as an irreplaceable natural, cultural and economic asset – respected and safeguarded for the benefit of all.
It has also launched a petition arguing for Scotland’s wild land areas to be fully protected from large scale development, and to change Scottish planning policy to clarify that planning applications for industrial scale developments in mapped areas of wild land will be unacceptable.
David Gibson, MCofS Chief Officer, said: “’Respecting Scotland’s Mountains’ emphasises the importance of stronger protection for our mountains and wild land in environmental and economic terms, and for the benefit of public health and wellbeing.
“There is a real need for people to know how the parties view the protection of these rapidly diminishing, nationally important assets and how they propose to provide stronger future protection. We’ve asked the party leaders for a statement of intent – one which we can share with our members and the public prior to the general election, so that they can make an informed decision when they vote.”
Read ‘Respecting Scotland’s Mountains’ the MCofS vision for wild land and sign the petition.
The BMC wishes to see tangible measures for the improvement of access and the conservation of our countryside, enshrined in a long-term strategy for outdoor recreation.
In the English countryside alone, walkers spend over £6 billion a year and support 245,000 full time jobs. Better access to green space could save the NHS of both England and Wales billions, while a growing body of evidence supports the view that outdoor recreation is integral to the wellbeing of society.
Yet the BMC says access to the countryside is getting harder due to the impact of cuts, and the countryside itself is at increasing risk of being harmed by development. Dr Cath Flitcroft, BMC Access & Conservation Officer, said: “We want political parties to recognise the huge value of outdoor recreation. For instance, we want to see a long-term strategy for outdoor recreation to tackle the epidemic of inactivity. We’re calling for politicians to be genuine advocates for the outdoors, protecting our countryside and green spaces from inappropriate developments. We want to know how many of them are up for the challenge.”
The BMC is encouraging its members to ask political party candidates five simple questions, highlighting where it thinks the next government needs to focus. A handy door hanger is available to download to help people quiz their party candidates and canvassers when they land on their doorsteps.