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The future of Northern Ireland’s great outdoors in jeopardy


Outdoor Recreation Northern Ireland, the strategic body responsible for developing, managing and promoting outdoor activities in Northern Ireland, today confirmed that the Department of Environment has withdrawn 100% of its funding (£120,000) with effect from April.

Outdoor Recreation NI has been at the forefront of several key developments throughout Northern Ireland including the development of mountain bike trails in Rostrevor and Castlewellan in Co Down and Davagh Forest in Co Tyrone; the Canoe Trail on Lough Erne, the walking and cycling trails in Beech Hill in Co Derry~Londonderry, and the development of walking trails on Rathlin Island.

Dawson Stelfox MBE, Chairman of Outdoor Recreation Northern Ireland (ORNI) and first Irishman to climb Everest explained, “This cut puts into jeopardy many of the walking paths throughout Northern Ireland as well as some of our iconic walks such as the Causeway Coast Way and the Ulster Way.”

The organisation provides insurance for all walking trails in Northern Ireland. The withdrawal of DOE funding puts walking trails throughout Northern Ireland at risk.

Outdoor Recreation NI has been extremely effective in attracting additional funding on the back of DOE funding. In the last 6 years ORNI has generated an additional £7.5 million and the ability to attract further funding will be at risk going forward with the funding cuts.

Dawson Stelfox added, “Outdoor recreation generates huge economic benefits, particularly for rural economies. In addition, there is indisputable evidence that taking part in physical activities in an outdoor environment has huge potential to enhance mental wellbeing and physical health. ”

Case studies from neighbouring economies demonstrate the impact of outdoor recreation on economic growth. The newly launched Wales Coastal Path is worth an estimated £16m to the Welsh economy over twelve months. The value of the health benefits of the path has been calculated at £18.3m per year. Northern Ireland has the opportunity to generate significant economic benefits, and in the rural economy in particular, given the appropriate level of funding.

Sedentary behaviour is the single biggest cause of obesity and in 2012 research found that the estimated annual cost of dealing with obesity in Northern Ireland was £370m a year. The walking, cycle and mountain bike paths that ORNI creates as well as the programme it runs to train and encourage people to start walking in their local area all have a direct impact on increasing the participation in physical activity by the people of Northern Ireland.

Dawson Stelfox concluded, “The Northern Ireland Environment Committee is meeting today to discuss the cuts and we urge the people of Northern Ireland to encourage them to challenge these cuts for their own health and wellbeing as well as the economic benefits that outdoor recreation can bring.”

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