Sustainable recreation

As far as possible, any recreation provision should be planned and designed with sustainability in mind. At its simplest, sustainability means that the present needs of the people and their environment should be met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

An example of how sustainability could be included in recreation planning is recent work by Scottish Natural Heritage, the government body with a responsibility for the landscape, nature conservation and outdoor recreation in Scotland. The following section is reproduced with their permission.

The approach is founded upon five main principles. These principles are based on common sense, and are designed to promote a sense of responsibility and understanding in how we all use the natural heritage. Enjoyment of the outdoors causes relatively little environmental damage, compared with major land-use impacts, but all the principles—as set out below—have relevance to access planning and design.

Wise use

Non-renewable resources should be used wisely and sparingly, at a rate that does not restrict the options of future generations. A major call on non-renewable resources (particularly hydrocarbons) by outdoor recreation activities is the use of the motor car. Use of the car is central to the freedom and flexibility with which people enjoy open-air recreation. But we should aim to be less dependent on the car, especially for the more frequent short and medium-length journeys. The provision of better local access, especially where this can be reached on foot or by public transport, will benefit both the environment and the natural heritage, and should therefore be a key objective.

Carrying capacity

Renewable resources should be used within the limits of their capacity for regeneration. Many areas of natural vegetation, and some wildlife, are inherently vulnerable to the impact of too much recreation. Scotland lies at northerly latitudes, with harsh winters and cool summers, both of which inhibit quick recovery of damage to natural vegetation on high ground. 'Carrying capacity' refers not just to the physical impacts of people on land, but also to the risk of causing undue disturbance to valued wildlife, and sometimes to the loss of a sense of wildness or solitude—the very qualities that attract people to remote places. The practical implication of this guidance is that there may be a need for restraint on the use of the most vulnerable areas.

Environmental quality

The quality of the natural heritage as a whole should be maintained and improved. Recreation is becoming a major user of land. As outdoor recreation continues to develop, its effects on the natural heritage will become more widespread. There is a need for greater commitment to resolve problems through management, through environmental education, and by strategic planning of the means of access in terms of roads, parking facilities and footpaths.

Precautionary principle

In situations of great complexity or uncertainty we should act in a precautionary manner. Access measures are sometimes concentrated on places that are ecologically or visually sensitive. Where there is reasonable doubt whether substantial or irreversible damage would be caused to places of special value, the management process should start much earlier, as soon as the problem starts to emerge, and it should seek to identify limits of acceptable change. Meanwhile it is only sensible to constrain and divert activities that

Recreation planning 25 might prove damaging to the health of the natural heritage.

Shared benefits

There should be an equitable distribution of the costs and benefits (material and nonmaterial) of any development. We are all 'land users' in our own ways. Access to the countryside confers great non-material benefits on those who can participate in outdoor recreation. But there can be drawbacks, which mainly affect local communities and those who manage land used by the public. Damage now should not compromise the future, either in reducing the enjoyment of generations to come or in creating problems for landowners and managers.

Hence it is important for recreation planners to consider the effects of their actions on the wider environment, on transport, on energy and on the local traditions and economy. Designers need to assess whether their work protects the site from damage, degradation and pollution. The use of materials has to be considered: for example, the implications of using timber from natural and sensitive tropical rain-forests; the effects of timber preservative leaching into the soil; effects on drainage systems; the impacts of construction; the ease of re-vegetation after site work; the ability to restore a site completely after use is finished. This may favour the simplest, most economical solutions, the use of local and native materials, a reluctance to construct anything too permanent, and an adherence to the principle of 'less is more'. This is a good principle, and is particularly valid when arguably one of the central concepts of design in the outdoors is to allow the landscape to maintain dominance over human activities.

At the conclusion of this chapter the designer should be able to assess the requirements of a comprehensive brief for the kind of recreation best suited to a particular place, its likely impact on the site, and the amount and location of constructed facilities and artefacts needed to limit site damage and provide for the safety, comfort and convenience of recreational visitors. The next step is to consider what concepts are appropriate for design, how these relate to different settings and, most importantly, how they will be used by the visitors themselves.

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