Outdoor Recreation encompasses all sport and physical recreation that takes place in the natural environment whether on land, water or air. On land it includes but is not restricted to venues such as forests and woodlands, uplands and open land, caves, beaches and urban parks but also includes activities that take place on trails. In water it can include coastal waters, lakes and rivers and can be on or under the water. The variety of venues and activities that can be participated in are extensive and given the nature of Northern Ireland’s geography – many are within easy reach of the vast majority of the population of Northern Ireland.
The importance of the natural environment is recognised by Sport Northern Ireland as a significant resource for participation in sport and physical recreation. While other areas of sport have seen declines in participation – outdoor recreation has seen significant growth in participation numbers (download the 'Trends in Outdoor Adventure Activities' Factsheet).
The Northern Ireland Countryside Recreation Strategy was authored and developed in 1998 by Sport Northern Ireland and the Environment and Heritage Service of the Department of the Environment (now Northern Ireland Environment Agency - NIEA).
The vision of the 1998 Strategy was to: “To develop and sustain a vibrant countryside recreation culture in which responsible and well informed people enjoy high quality, sustainable and appropriate activities in an accessible, well managed yet challenging environment; where landowners and managers are welcoming and there are accompanying benefits to local communities both in social and economic terms.”
There were three principles underpinning this vision:
- Mutual respect between all interested parties;
- Sustainable access; and
- Quality of the experience.
Since 1998 – the situation within Great Britain with respect to access has changed significantly following the introduction of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act (England and Wales) 2000 and the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. As Northern Ireland does not benefit from similar legislation, Sport Northern Ireland continues to work in partnership with other agencies to create opportunities and facilities for sustainable and responsible recreation in the outdoors. The Countryside Access and Activity Network (CAAN) was established as a result of the 1998 strategy and is supported by a range of other Government Organisations in Northern Ireland. The network brings together all the interested parties at quarterly meetings and has a business arm (Countryside Recreation NI) that draws down funding to create facilities and provide information to increase participation in responsible and sustainable outdoor recreation.
Sport Northern Ireland and NIEA recently carried out a review of the 1998 Strategy - download the Review: Countryside Recreation Strategy.
Sport Northern Ireland provides advice and support to a range of other agencies, networks and bodies that have a remit for environmental protection or outdoor recreation. Sport Northern Ireland firmly believes that responsible and sustainable recreational activities have little or no impact on biodiversity and conservation issues – and have significant health benefits to participants. However outdoor recreation also provides an important mechanism for people to take ownership of the value of the landscape and the natural environment around them and thereby desire to protect and nurture it. Sport Northern Ireland has signed up to the principles of Leave No Trace as an ethic that ensures that activities are sustainable and take place responsibly. Sport Northern Ireland supports the work of Leave No Trace Ireland and, through a policy framework, ensures that grant recipients are also signed up to these principles.
Sport Northern Ireland is an active member of the Countryside Recreation Network which is a Network supported by a variety of Government Agencies covering the UK and Republic of Ireland. The Countryside Recreation Network carries out joint research promotes information exchange and sharing through the network meetings, an E-zine bulletin and the production of a quarterly journal and provides training and seminars on best practice and current issues.
Sport Northern Ireland also supports a range of Governing Bodies for the Outdoor and Adventure Sports including:
In addition to this development and advocacy role Sport Northern Ireland also supports and funds the Northern Ireland Mountain, Cliff and Cave Rescue Co-ordinating Committee and the three voluntary teams in Northern Ireland.
Sport Northern Ireland owns and manages Tollymore National Outdoor Centre which is the national centre for outdoor adventure activities. Tollymore has recently undergone a major rebuild and refurbishment and now provides not only high quality courses for leaders and participants but has superb accommodation and facilities in an iconic and dramatic new building.