Northern Ireland’s outdoor areas and scenic spots have experienced an unprecedented growth in visitor numbers since the Covid-19 pandemic began.
Whilst this interest in the outdoors is welcomed, it has generated significant issues that are disrupting natural beauty spots, such as littering, dog waste, irresponsible car parking, livestock worrying, disturbance to wildlife, overcrowding, plus the damage which can be caused from wild camping and wildfires.
Eager to address these issues, WalkNI has launched a nationwide campaign, ‘The Right Side of Outside,’ aimed at generating awareness of these concerns and instilling more positive behaviours that will ultimately ease some of the main implications now at play in many of the popular outdoor spots.
The campaign is funded by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs and is being driven by a wider group of organisations currently being affected by these issues, including the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, Mourne Mountain Rescue, and the Ulster Farmers’ Union among others.
Speaking on the launch, Chair of WalkNI’s parent company Outdoor Recreation NI, Dawson Stelfox, MBE, and the first Irish man to reach and lead a team to Everest in 1993, said: “In the past year, outdoor space has mattered to us more than ever, providing a true place of escapism from the reality of the pandemic.
“With spring upon us and social distancing regulations set to relax further, we want to ensure that people continue enjoying the outdoors, making great memories with family and friends; but in a way that is positive for their surroundings.
“Whilst most visitors out and about are respectful of their natural environment, there are a small number who have exploited the freedoms of the outdoors.
“We want to encourage people to prepare before heading out, adhere to health and safety measures, be respectful of others and understand that simple changes such as going early to ensure you get a car parking space, avoiding areas where livestock is present if you have a dog, bringing your dog waste home with you and knowing the risks associated with outdoor fires will have a huge impact.
“Whilst Covid-19 regulations continue to change, we ask people to please be mindful of current guidance that is in place.
“Our campaign is a positive reminder to embrace outside, but respect the space you are in.”
‘The Right Side of Outside’ campaign will roll out over the coming weeks, with the first campaign message focusing on littering, an issue that WalkNI recognises is one of the most prevalent.
The main message is to bring your litter home. Some outdoor spots don’t have bins and if they do, bins can quickly overfill.
There are also items such as apple cores or banana skins that can be a danger to wildlife.
Dawson adds: “On a visit to the countryside, always take your rubbish home with you.
“It may sound obvious, but it is surprising how many people don’t.
“Alternatively, if you see a discarded crisp packet, can, bottle or any litter when out and about, pick it up.
“Keep a bag and protective gloves in your rucksack for litter-picking opportunities.
“These small actions will have a lasting positive impact.
“We choose to escape to these scenic locations to enjoy and bask in their beauty, so why would you wish to taint it for future generations?”
Helping WalkNI kick off its campaign is local comedian Shane Todd with his launch video viewable online via Facebook.
The not-for-profit organisation will be teaming up with a number of Northern Ireland’s well-known personalities and influencers, asking them to champion the campaign’s key messages.
To find out more about the campaign or discover tips to help you make the right choices outdoors, visit www.walkni.com or search #RightSideofOutside