Information and Advisory Note Number 142 Back to menu
1.1 The Scottish countryside has long been valued as a resource for informal
recreation by the people of Scotland and visitors alike. The mountains, rivers,
lochs, forests and coasts are the most varied, extensive and challenging in
1.2 The attraction of open air recreation is at the heart of Scotland's status as a tourist destination. In 1998 it was estimated that expenditure on open air recreation amounted to about £730 million and supported about 29,000 full-time equivalent jobs (SNH, 1998a). Tourists participating in hiking and walking generated £257 million (15% of tourist expenditure), supporting about 9,400 fte jobs.
.1.3 Open air recreation is vital to health and well-being; and a means to escape the pressures of day-to-day living and to enjoy and learn about the natural heritage.
1.4 Each year well over half of the Scottish population take part in informal recreation in the countryside, whether walking, cycling or horse riding, canoeing, sailing or fishing.
1.5 In 1998, formal advice was submitted to government on new access arrangements for Scotland (SNH, 1998b). This has been accepted by the government as the basis for legislation by the Scottish Parliament in 2001. The main elements are:
• The introduction of a right of access to land and water for informal recreation and passage. This should be exercised responsibly, with safeguards for privacy, land management and conservation.
• The requirement for local authorities to plan for, implement and manage access locally.
• A new Scottish Outdoor Access Code will give guidance on how this right should be exercised responsibly, and to specify the responsibilities of land managers and others.
2.1 The principal trends in recreation for which information is available are
summarised in Table 1.
2.2 Participation in, and provision for, many forms of recreation has increased in recent years.
• Between 1994 and 1998 the number of visits by Scottish adults to the coast or countryside increased from 105 million to 137 million (Greene, 1998; SCPR, 1999).
• The proportion of adults taking part in outdoor activities increased from 41 % to 46% between 1987-89 and 1996-98 (MacGregor & Martin, 1999).
• Provision for recreation in FE woodland increased between 1986 and 1996. For example, the number of forest walks and nature trails increased from 199 to 336 and visitor centres increased from 6 to twelve (Scottish Office, 1998).
• Participation in walking and mountaineering increased from 800,000 trips in 1973 to about 1.8 million in 1995 (Davison, 1997).
• The Paths For All initiative was launched in 1996 and, by May 2000, development of 144 path networks was proposed or being implemented.
2.3 As participation in recreation increases, more investment in countryside management is needed to make better provision for visitors, and to ensure that where problems arise they can be resolved.
2.4 For example, path management is required to prevent unsightly erosion. Between 1964 and 1976, the length of mapped footpaths, within a 100 square km area around the four highest Cairngorm peaks, increased by almost 120% (Aitken, 1985).
3.1 There is a lack of consistent long-term data to follow trends in recreation
participation, largely because changes in survey methods make some comparisons
impossible (Greene, 1996).
3.2 For walking, the best comparison is between the Scottish Tourism and Recreation Study of 1973 and the National Walking Survey of 1995 (Davison, 1997).
3.3 Sportscotland (formerly the Scottish Sports Council) have been gathering data on participation in sport since 1987 (sportscotland, 1998), and this is now the best long-term trend data available.
3.4 The UK Day Visit Survey, run in 1994, 1996 and 1998, collects information on participation in different kinds of day trip, and on the characteristics of respondents and their leisure visits (Greene, 1998; SCPR, 1998, 1999).
3.5 Automatic counters are increasingly used to maintain continuous records of visitors to key sites. A few sites have been monitored since 1992, and we are now beginning to acquire basic data about levels of use of these sites.
Aitken, R. (1985). Scottish Mountain Footpaths, a Reconnaissance Review of their
Condition. Edinburgh: Countryside Commission for Scotland.
Davison, R. (1997). Hill-walking in Scotland. Scottish Natural Heritage Information and Advisory Note No. 80. Perth: Scottish Natural Heritage.
Greene, D. (1996). A Guide to Data Sources for Participation in Countryside Recreation. Scottish Natural Heritage Information and Advisory Note No. 27. Perth: Scottish Natural Heritage.
Greene, D. (1998). Leisure Trips to the Scottish Countryside and Coast, 1994. Scottish Natural Heritage Research Survey and Monitoring Report No. 42. Perth: Scottish Natural Heritage.
MacGregor, C. & Martin, I. (1999). Sports Participation in Scotland 1998. Edinburgh: sportscotland.
Scottish Natural Heritage (1998a). Jobs and the Natural Heritage, the Natural Heritage in Rural Development. Perth: Scottish Natural Heritage.
Scottish Natural Heritage (1998b). Access to the Countryside for Open-air Recreation. Perth: Scottish Natural Heritage.
Scottish Office (1998). Scottish Environment Statistics. Edinburgh: Scottish Office.
Social and Community Planning Research (1998). UK Leisure Day Visits. Summary of the 1996 Survey Findings. London: Social and Community Planning Research.
Social and Community Planning Research (1999). UK Leisure Day Visits. Summary of the 1998 Survey Findings.
sportscotland (1998). Sports Participation in Scotland 1998. Research Digest No 72. Edinburgh: sportscotland.
Further detailed information on Natural Heritage Trends: Access and Recreation
can be found in the following l&A Notes.
To obtain further information about any of the issues raised in this l&A Note,
Ms Jeanette Hall (Author) or Mr Ed Mackey
Environmental Audit Group
Chief Scientist's Unit
Scottish Natural Heritage
2 Anderson Place
EDINBURGH EH6 5NP
Tel: 0131-446 2457
Fax: 0131-446 2405
Table 1. Access and Recreation Trends
¹ Reliability of change or trend between the specified years: T = an increasing (or decreasing) trend established;
C = change clearly established between first and last year, but no clear evidence for a trend; c = change probable but
not fully-established; c = changed indicated but not well-established. A blank indicates that assessment of change
was not appropriate. Statistical significance was tested where possible (at the 5% level).
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