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Government urged not to ban people from countryside

Thursday 19th November 2020, 5:16pm

Mountaineering Scotland is urging the Scottish Government to ensure that people in tiers 3 and 4 areas are not prevented from accessing nearby countryside for hiking and other outdoor recreation when travel restrictions are brought into law.

For many in these areas, particularly in the West of Scotland, even access to the country parks that serve the city will be out of reach under the travel laws, and the organisation is calling for flexibility to allow people to safely access local areas for outdoor recreation, and to help spread the load from urban parks and open spaces.

Mountaineering Scotland welcomes the Scottish Government’s acknowledgement that outdoor exercise is so important for the mental and physical wellbeing of the population and that it has been one of the limited exemptions to the travel restrictions. What is now clear however, is that under this latest move to tier 4 for 11 local authority areas, inequalities of access to the outdoors have been further exacerbated, particularly in cities.  

Mountaineering Scotland has written to the First Minister and provided feedback to the Scottish Government highlighting the importance of recreation in the great outdoors for both physical and mental health and wellbeing when so many other activities are not permitted.  In addition to the travel restrictions seven climbing centres along with gyms and sports facilities will have to close in tier 4 areas. Mountaineering Scotland has also drawn attention to an academic paper based on international research which shows that there is a very low risk of transmitting the virus when participating in mountaineering activities.

Stuart Younie, CEO of the organisation, said: “We are committed to playing our part in helping to tackle this virus and understand the Government are facing difficult decisions, but it’s important that people can continue to exercise their right of responsible access to the countryside to enjoy the physical and mental health benefits it brings.

“With over 2 million people in the most densely populated areas of Scotland under Tier 3 and 4 restrictions, for some even their nearest rural areas are already beyond their reach. We hope the Government considers how, under the proposed legislation, they can take a flexible approach to enable people to travel to their nearest rural area without the threat of being charged with an offence, so they can continue to enjoy the undisputed health benefits of recreation in the countryside whilst keeping themselves and others safe.”

Mountaineering Scotland’s advice to members, and to others who under the current guidance are able to head for the hills, is to have consideration for the people living in those areas; to travel where possible by private transport; to fill up before leaving their own local authority area, and to avoid mixing with people in the communities they are passing through.