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Concerns Over Mountain Pathways Should Not Put People Off the Great Outdoors

08/05/2016 18:34 | Updated 08 May 2016

In the past few days, there has been an important public debate about whether we need to charge the public to access pathways on hills and mountains to protect the land for future generations.

Mountaineering grandee Sir Chris Bonnington and the British Mountaineering Council have warned that the popularity of walking is wearing away paths and have urged the public to help raise £100,000 to repair some walkways on popular peaks.

The BMC has identified eight key mountain routes that need more protection. It is trying to raise money for urgent maintenance on paths such as Lyke Wake Walk in the North York Moors, Ringing Roger on Kinder Scout in the Peak District and Watkin Path on Snowdon. Carey Davies, the BMC's hill walking officer, has made the point that ramblers and climbers have a duty to repair some of the damage they have caused.

While I am sympathetic to the campaign, I am concerned about the mixed messages. On the one hand, the Government is encouraging all of us to adopt an active lifestyle. But then we hear the conflicting message that we should be protecting our pathways and, in some cases, restricting access.

The BMC's call to raise £100,000 pales in comparison with the ballooning deficit in public healthcare funding due to an increase in the rates of obesity.

Having benefited enormously from being active outdoors, my strong view would be that we should be doing our utmost to encourage more people - particularly young girls - to take on rambling, hill walking and mountaineering. Not discouraging them.

Being outdoors teaches kids to take on responsibility, be creative and problem solve. It helps them develop the skills and confidence - the grit - to help them thrive and succeed in life.

I am currently writing this blog perched at an altitude of 6,500m halfway up Everest during my bid to break the female Explorer's Grand Slam record.

In the past week, I have met with members of a filming crew collaborating with Endemol - the Dutch company that created Big Brother. Their job here on Everest is to shoot enough footage to create a virtual reality experience of climbing the world's tallest mountain.

I have mixed feelings about the project. While it may help discourage poorly-prepared climbers who come here to take on a formidable and, at times, deadly challenge, I fear that by encouraging virtual reality climbing experiences (Everest aside) we will reduce the therapeutic impact that mountaineering and walking has on one's physical and mental health. Why bother climbing the real thing, when you can experience it from the comfort of your own living room?

It is time we used Big Lottery money for the conservation of our pathways and steer away from any policies or messages that restrict or discourage public access to our hills and mountains. Otherwise, all our kids will know is a virtual reality show formerly known as the 'great outdoors'.

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