Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Access v the Environment - Where do you draw the line?

(L-R) Lynn, Jamie, Robin & Kathryn
This interesting and current question was the topic of discussion at a debate hosted during February by the Outdoors Team and the SSTO's Sustainability Lead at the University of Central Lancashire.

The event was chaired by UCLan's Professor Richard Sharpley and heard presentations from Professor Lynn Anderson (New York State University), Jamie McPhie (Cumbria University), Robin Horner (RSPB) and Kathryn Beardmore (North Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority).

Students and members of the public heard the speakers' perspectives live and online and asked the panel questions. Those online tweeted or emailed their questions whilst watching the debate live on the internet. The perspectives of the speakers were summarised by one of the audience:

"Professor Lynn Anderson drew the starting line by proposing a biocentric approach using evidence from her outdoors work with persons with disabilities. She saw access to wilderness experiences as essential for everyone but stated that it should be 'wilderness on wilderness'' terms rather than incorporating any modifications (e.g., footpaths, jetties) to facilitate access.

"Robin Horner took the perspective that access should be seen as a balance and a privilege. Whilst vital to allow access to nature, consideration must be given to the different tolerances and needs of species within the natural environment when making access decisions.

"Robin shared the RSPB decision not to open certain areas of Morecambe Bay to walkers due to the lower numbers of protective bird species found in the open access areas. Yet other areas, e.g., Leighton Moss, enable easy access for most visitors to view other species that are more tolerant to sharing habitats with humans.

"Kathryn Beardmore discussed the Yorkshire Dales National Park as a 'lived-in landscape' (in contrast to the wilderness areas found in the USA). A non-exclusive perspective on access was exemplified with slides of Malham and its footpaths, shops and cafes.

"Yet the expressed need of many users for unspoilt, peaceful outdoor experiences was the justification given by YDNP for reevaluating its policy on vehicular access to Green Lane, in which the most sensitive lanes have been restricted to non-motorised transport only.

"The final speaker, Jamie McPhie, took a contentious academic perspective on the dialectic of oppression and privilege in which affluence is seen as enabling access, and conservation agendas as excluding vast numbers of people from our natural environments.

"His position was based on a belief that, if we recognise that we are in a crisis situation ("the 6th mass extinction") and are given responsibility for access to our natural environment, we will be able to work out ways of living more sustainably within our environment."

The event brought up many interesting, and difficult, questions and after the event the discussions continued online, in the audience, with the speakers and hosts and with the students in subsequent lectures. Thank you to all the speakers and the team of students who helped out during the event.

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