Everest explorer encourages MLAs to Walk the Walk9th May 2016
Outdoor Recreation Northern Ireland, the strategic body responsible for developing, managing and promoting outdoor activities in Northern Ireland, is urging Party leaders to prioritise a Walking Strategy for Northern Ireland in the forthcoming Programme for Government negotiations.
Dawson Stelfox MBE, Chairman of Outdoor Recreation Northern Ireland and first Irishman to climb Everest explained: “A high level approach to walking in the form of a dedicated Walking Strategy offers considerable opportunities, in improving health and wellbeing, strengthening communities, and growing the economy.”
With negotiations underway to agree the next Programme for Government, Mr Stelfox believes walking presents a fresh approach to protracted issues, and could provide the perfect opportunity for cross-departmental working to achieve a range of better outcomes for the entire population.
Outlining some of the key health benefits, Mr Stelfox drew on research which highlights that regular physical activity can prevent dementia, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, heart disease and other common serious conditions – reducing the risk of each by at least 30%:
“A strategic approach to walking could move our health service towards a health and wellbeing service as opposed to simply a sickness service. This is an approach already adopted in Scotland, where for every £1 invested in health walks, £8 of benefits are generated for society.”
Given the appropriate strategic approach, Mr Stelfox believes walking also has the opportunity to generate significant economic benefits in the rural economy:
“We only need to look at the success of our neighbours. In 2011, 740,000 overseas visitors to the Republic of Ireland went walking, spending approximately €649 million.“
Mr Stelfox also countered the perception that Northern Ireland’s rural nature provides an abundance of walking opportunities:
“There is a lack of doorstep walking opportunities in our rural communities, due to the increased traffic on our rural roads. Further strategic development is required to connect communities to their local green space and allow people access the outdoors safely and with confidence. ”
With many of the Political Parties including references to developing walking opportunities within their Election Manifestos, Outdoor Recreation Northern Ireland hope to see these pledges translate into the inclusion of a Walking Strategy for Northern Ireland within the forthcoming Programme for Government.