I have, for some time, been concerned about the fragmentation of representation of outdoor professionals and those working in the outdoors in a professional manner. I’ve had time to think recently. I recognise we love our own associations and that they actually do a pretty good job for us. But I read a blog recently about the perceived lack of impact by the conservation associations, featured below, that got me thinking again.
We are a wide ranging bunch, working in the outdoors, some of us might conflict with each other, but we all just want to get people active in the outdoor environment and we understand the need for humanity to more appreciative of the environment and in particular the nature around us. We all firmly believe that people need movement in their lives albeit by simply walking, or indeed by taking part in more complex activities. The organisations that we join and represent us by and large do a great job. I have to give a big mention to the Association of Mountaineering Instructors here as they have really stepped up to the plate on behalf of their members during this crisis and that has involved a lot of voluntary work. The BMC too has led from the front and I know the Institute of Outdoor Learning is working hard to keep its members learning and communicating. These are just three of ‘our’ organisations and you will know of lots more good work going in our sector. But what we are not doing is presenting a unified voice to Government. The NFU, for example, can do this.
In the conservation world, it is if anything worse. There are even more conservation bodies vying for the public’s cash and Governments ear. Each species or group of species has its own champions, yet so often those groups want the same, or are at least very similar, things.
Key players in the outdoor sector and the conservation sector are often small scale. Even the larger outdoor businesses and conservation organisations will need a little bit of luck to get through the corona crisis. Small charities will really struggle and lots of small independent businesses will cease to exist. Tourism, outdoor activities and the conservation world will bounce back from the corona crises, but will it be stronger, or will it be weaker? We have been fortunate not to see a wholescale closing down of the countryside, a la foot and mouth style. The powers are there; in Wales Local Authorities can close access land or public rights of way if they feel there is a threat of contamination. Snowdon, The Glyderau and the Arannau are all closed. This is to help make Snowdonia less attractive as a destination, so we are going along with it, people living locally have plenty of other options to walk from home or ride their bikes. Quite how we have got the freedom to exercise, quite why so many rights of way are open, I don’t know, but I certainly appreciate it. Was it down to our lobbying? Or did the Chief Medical Officer insist on us all being able to get out and about for our physical and mental wellbeing? The fact we can and that it is allowed is very important and something we should not underestimate. Can we capitalise on this mindset after the crisis? Probably not as a fragmented group.
I believe we should all seek to integrate and increase co-operation between our organisations. We should work hard to come together; we need to seek out inspirational leaders who can make a difference. Read Mick Green’s blog about a parallel scenario in the conservation world here https://www.ecos.org.uk/admitting-defeat-why-i-am-quitting-nature-conservation/ . There is a crisis of confidence in that world too. Are they helping to improve the environment and natural habitats? Are our conservation charities achieving? The same could be said of us. Are we making a difference? Are we a unified voice campaigning on behalf of getting more people active in the outdoors to improve their physical and mental wellbeing? Is that more than we wish to do? Are we just interested in climbing and walking for fun? I think we should be more, or at least supportive of some sort of umbrella organisation which shouts up for the outdoor sector, the sectors we love, and we make a living from. Or should we just go climbing, which is not a bad option! Now is the time to act. What ideas do you have?
A first step for the outdoor community could be to unite under one simple badge. We keep our existing organisations, but we wear a second badge. A simple ‘Outdoor Professional’ badge. You simply need to be qualified e.g. hold a Mountain Training Qualification and be working within your remit in a professional manner. This could easily then spread across other disciplines. Our associations, and our honesty, could be the conscience of a scheme like this. The public would then only need to recognise one badge initially, we could then educate them about all the others.
Please let me reassure you, I do not think the current organisations are doing a bad job. They are doing a good job, there are many workers both voluntary and professional who are busting a gut to do good things in both the outdoor and conservation sectors. I applaud them and thank them. We do, however, from time to time and I’ve heard it said recently that we need a union for freelance outdoor instructors. This will come, it needs to come from within. My argument is that together we are stronger. We need to turn things around, so Government comes to talk to us, rather than us needing to lobby the Government.
Any views express here are my own and in no way representative of any formal organisations. Also please note the name www.outdoorprofessional.co.uk is already taken and is not part of this idea, another name will need to be found.