ORNI response to review of access provision

15th March 2021


Outdoor Recreation Northern Ireland has submitted a response to DAERA’s key stakeholder consultation which seeks views on the provision of access to the natural environment for outdoor recreation in Northern Ireland. In addition, the consultation will investigate how provision can be improved, while protecting the environment and recognising the needs of landowners.

During a recent ORNI Webinar on Access Legislation several stakeholders within the outdoor recreation sector requested support with preparation of their consultation response, hence ORNI’s decision to make our response public prior to the submission deadline of 29th March 2021. It is hoped it can act as a guide to inform others and encourage a high level of engagement with this important consultation.

In broad summary, ORNI’s response highlights:

  • A lack of sufficient public access to the natural environment in Northern Ireland
  • Public Rights of Way should not be the focus of any new legislation
  • Key challenges in establishing and managing public access – primarily irresponsible behavior and concerns relating to occupiers’ liability
  • Proposals to provide incentives to landowners to facilitate access and to address fears over occupiers’ liability
  • Proposals to provide further access to public land for outdoor recreation
  • The opportunity and need for a new Outdoor Recreation Bill
  • The approach and benefits of Community Trail Plans

ORNI’s response draws upon the findings of the recent Outdoor Recreation: People, Nature and Health Survey results which highlights the benefits of being active in nature are not enjoyed equally with frequency of participation in outdoor recreation activities decreasing as levels of deprivation increase.

The findings demonstrate the clear link between enjoying outdoor spaces and good mental and physical health with 73% of respondents stating the primary motivation for visiting the outdoors was ‘to get some exercise’ and/or ‘for health and fitness’. In addition, 65% felt calm and relaxed and 32% felt closer to nature following visits to the outdoors.

It is clear however that these important benefits are not being realised equally by all, with only 50% of those from Northern Ireland’s most deprived areas visiting the outdoors at least once a week. This is in stark contrast to the national average of 70% and rising to 82% in the most affluent areas.

Nearly 1 in 3 state they do not have greenspace with easy walking distance of their home and this sentiment is higher for residents of rural areas and deprived areas, and amongst women and disabled people.

This key stakeholder consultation is not considering an overall “Right to Roam”, or the development of National Parks in Northern Ireland. Stakeholders identified for initial consultation include:

  • Representative groups of those who use the outdoors for recreational purposes
  • Representative groups of landowners / land managers
  • Environmental groups

A broader public consultation is expected following the consideration of responses from key stakeholders.

Download DAERA Consultation Document

Download ORNI Response