Outscape’s response to draft Environment Strategy – a great opportunity for outdoor recreation but larger challenges to be addressed13th January 2022
We are encouraging the sector to submit a response to DAERA’s consultation document on Northern Ireland’s first ever overarching Environment Strategy. The deadline for online submissions of 18th January 2022 is fast approaching.
The Environment Strategy will set out Northern Ireland’s environmental priorities for the coming decades and will form part of the Executive’s Green Growth Delivery Framework.
Outscape is a not-for profit organisation who make it easier for people to responsibly enjoy the natural environment, with the vision of ‘a more active and healthy society appreciating the outdoors’. Therefore, we very much welcome the focus on this area within the Strategy as the importance of increasing people’s access to, participation in, and connection with the environment cannot be underestimated in delivering real improvements to peoples’ health and well-being.
We welcome and agree with the broad thrust of the Strategy and recognise that all elements between the Strategic Environmental Outcomes (SEOs) are interlinked. However, given our remit and expertise, our comments add most value to SEO 2: ‘Healthy and accessible environments and landscapes everyone can connect with and enjoy’. Within this SEO, our focus is primarily on Section 8 ‘Connecting People to the Environment: Outdoor Recreation and Natural Space Provision’. Over the course of the Strategy formation, we have engaged via policy forums (e.g., Northern Ireland Environment Link) and appreciate that our eNGO partners are better placed to provide detailed input on other aspects.
Outscape recognises the immense challenge to redress a deteriorating environment and believes that the draft Environment Strategy misses the target in terms of tackling the overall nature and climate emergencies. While we very much support the actions laid out under SEO 2 Section 8, we firmly urge that the final version of the Strategy has clear and ambitious targets, as well as the legislative framework to ensure that all actions outlined are delivered.
In brief summary and in relation to outdoor recreation our response calls for:
- Development of a new Outdoor Recreation Strategy for Northern Ireland (Cross – departmental)
- All Councils to be mandated and resourced to develop and implement a Community Trail Plan
- Development of a new National Walking Strategy (Cross – departmental)
- Development of programmes to encourage responsible use of the outdoors
- Timely progression of the current DAERA review of the provision of access to the natural environment
- Inclusion of a programme within DAERA ‘Future Agricultural Proposals’ which would allow farmers / landowners to receive financial payment for facilitating permissive access.
- Increased ambition in the target relating to time children spend per week connecting with nature in the outdoors
- Greater focus on safe and accessible access to green space in rural communities
- Increased role for community trails in providing a sustainable connection between communities and their built heritage
- The value of outdoor recreation benefits and access to quality green and blue space to be included within Natural Capital accounting
Our final comments are to urge the final version includes:
- More detail than in this draft version
- Legally binding targets with additional policy/legislation
- Targets that are specific, measurable, and time bound.