New generation of hikers call on greater access to the outdoors

A new study by Britain’s leading walking charity, The Ramblers and Columbia Sportswear has renewed calls for greater access to the outdoors in England and Wales. 

The research, which surveyed communities driving outdoor culture in the UK, revealed that 90% of respondents said the freedom to roam and legal access to enjoy and walk outdoors is very important to them. In England and Wales, the right to roam extends to 8% of the country, despite the desired appetite to expand it further. 

This lack of access resulted in a third (33%) of respondents stating their greatest barrier to entry to accessing and enjoying nature, was the lack of nature-rich, quality places to walk close to home, whilst 31% also said that accessing nature was hard due to it being ‘difficult, time-consuming or expensive to get to walking destinations.’ 

The survey took place during The Hike Society by Columbia’s inaugural Annual General Hike (AGH) – where more than 500 participants took part in organised hikes across the UK. Respondents stated that 70% were confident in their understanding of their rights to access the outdoors, whilst just one in 10 said they had a strong knowledge of the countryside code. Events such as the AGH were designed to not just encourage a greater number of people to discover the outdoors, but also to help educate new hikers in best practices while in the countryside. 

Despite a government commitment to provide an unprecedented £2billion of funding for active travel over five years, the greatest concern for those surveyed was the need to save existing footpaths from closure. That said, the funding over the years will come as a great relief to many – with respondents highlighting “more access and more places to walk and explore” and “more and better nature-rich, safe and accessible green routes closer to home” as the most important factors to improve experience in accessing, enjoying and walking in nature and the outdoors – said 28% and 25% respectively. 

The positive impact of exercise in the outdoors on mental health is well documented. A 2021 report by Forest Research estimated that woodland walks save the UK £185m a year in mental health costs. With the cost-of-living crisis affecting many areas of society, cost-efficient means of stress relief such as countryside walking offer a way for people to decompress and relax. 

Eoin Treacy, marketing manager at Columbia Sportswear, said, “A new generation of hiker was born out of the pandemic, a younger audience who, for many, were discovering the benefits of the outdoors for the first time. There are many challenges surrounding access to the outdoors in England and Wales, we’re working with The Ramblers and outdoor communities to improve access and make it more equal as we aim to unlock the outdoors for everyone.” 

Alison Hallas, Policy & Advocacy Officer, The Ramblers, said: “We had to fight hard for people’s freedom to roam over mountain, moor, heath and downland and we now want to see that expanded, so everyone can access the health and wellbeing benefits that come with walking responsibly in nature, closer to where they live.” 

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