It’s true that the outdoors is free, but is it equal? Is it a space where anyone can go and gain the benefits that are so obvious to anyone who has enjoyed a day on the hills or a climb on a crag. Unfortunately, not; new BMC-commissioned research has shown that a range of barriers can prevent those who need it most getting outside. And we are looking at what we can do to change it.
Studies and evidence have shown that economic barriers; working long hours, lack of private transport, expensive equipment – and cultural barriers; no family or community traditions of the outdoors, lack of role models – as well as someone’s age, health and other factors, has tilted the land in favour of wealthier demographics. Our outdoor spaces lack diversity compared to the country as a whole.
Working alongside people with lived experience, we have created a film to illustrate this.
To help tackle these barriers the BMC has created a new Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) strategy which takes a hard look at the situation, not just in general but within the organisation itself, and outlines its plans to address the inequity of the outdoors.
Results and findings of the study
Despite being free to access, income revealed as a key barrier to accessing the great British outdoors
• People on living wage twice as likely to never visit the countryside compared to those that earn more
• Less than four in ten people can easily access the countryside with a fifth having never visited, or doing so less than once a year, finds leading outdoor organisation
New research draws direct correlation between earnings and ability to get outdoors
Just 38% of people said they could easily access the countryside, despite the vast majority of respondents saying they are fully aware of the mental and physical benefits of getting active outdoors – evidence, the organisation says, of the strong and urgent need to break down barriers to improve access for all.
Those with a larger household income were five times more likely to ever visit the countryside, whilst a fifth (20%) of people report having a mental or physical health condition which holds them back from taking part in outdoor activities.
The research also found that one in ten people feel intimidated to go into the countryside to take part in outdoor activities; with 18-24 year olds four times more likely to report this feeling than 45-54 year olds.
Transport was also a key challenge, particularly amongst women who were twice as likely than men (17% vs 9%) to report not having access to a car as their biggest barrier to accessing the countryside. Women were also more likely to report issues with kit, with one in eight (12%) saying the lack of appropriate clothing in their size prevents them from accessing outdoor activities.
Regional differences were identified; people in the South West of England report spending the most time in the countryside each year, almost double the number of days of the lowest region, Yorkshire. People in Cambridge spent on average 135 days per year in the countryside, whereas those in Glasgow reported just 57 days per year.
Our EDI Strategy
The BMC has today published its new EDI Strategy, which will help drive the systemic change needed to champion and support equality, diversity and inclusivity in hill walking, climbing and mountaineering. The strategy is supported by a detailed action plan to improve and accelerate progress.
As well as developing data-led outreach programmes to reach underserved communities the organisation will support and invest in a wider range of local groups and organisations that speak directly to underrepresented participants.
What has been people's experience?
Sameed Asghar, a qualified Mountain Leader from Birmingham and co-founder of Summit Special - a family run hiking company, said: “I grew up pretty poor so I didn’t have the opportunity to explore the outdoors until I started working. Even then, getting started was pretty pricey considering how much I needed to spend on fuel, accommodation and kit.
“Being South Asian, the outdoors also isn’t something embedded in our culture and I didn’t really know how and where to explore when I first got started. Another barrier for me has been my parents - they’re quite traditional and still do not quite understand why I work as a Mountain Leader!
“I was first introduced to the outdoors in 2005, when I helped organise a charity trek to Everest Basecamp - fast forward to today and I’ve introduced thousands of people from BAME backgrounds to the great outdoors.
“Financial support and free workshops, as well as better representation of diverse outdoor groups in mainstream media are just some of the crucial parts in making the outdoors more inclusive for all. Reaching out and engaging with these community groups to provide regular support will help break down some of those barriers.”
Alex West, BMC Diversity and Inclusion Manager, said; “We are deeply aware of the inequalities in access to outdoor spaces and more generally to the activities that we represent – hill walking, climbing and mountaineering. The BMC, like much of the wider outdoor sector, needs to focus on broadening it’s diversity and becoming more representative of the communities around us, so we can play our role in establishing an outdoors that is reflective of society.
“At the BMC we have always believed in the great positive power of the outdoors on our mental and physical health and these findings show that many people who would stand to gain the most benefits, are not able to access them. The outdoors provides an opportunity to challenge ourselves and be part of a fulfilling community.
“Our film aims to raise awareness of these issues, whilst our new strategy contains a comprehensive programme of commitments outlining how we will be held accountable for the delivery of them, to help create the change needed to make the activities we represent more equal, diverse and inclusive.”
Mary-Ann Ochota, TV presenter and BMC Hillwalking Ambassador, is an advocate for breaking down the barriers to the outdoors. She said: “People have a perception that ‘the outdoors is free’ and that there aren’t any barriers stopping someone joining in. But there are sometimes a multitude of invisible barriers – from how accessible public transport is, to the knowledge or skills you’re expected to have to be able to plan and safely enjoy a day in the hills. And for someone joining a group or turning up in an unfamiliar rural location, there are lots of questions too – from what facilities will there be, to will I be welcomed? These barriers affect underrepresented and underserved communities the most.
“When you look at a group of people out in the hills, if they’re not as diverse as the people you’d see walking through Leeds train station, then you know we have a problem. Our wild landscapes and activities should be for all of us, equally. They create space to connect to nature, help us grow through adventure, and recharge mental and physical wellbeing. We need widespread change and it’s urgent – and that’s why this new BMC strategy is so important.”
The BMC is part of a coalition of outdoor/recreational organisations which plan to publish a shared vision later this year with three key asks of government to make the outdoors a more equal space.