Environment Agency heads up major recreation study

Posted: Monday 13th August 2007

Ensuring the environment is at the heart of future plans to develop water-related sport and leisure opportunities in England and Wales is the main aim of a landmark recreation study, the Environment Agency announced recently.

In England, two 12-month projects to assess and shape provision for water-related sport and recreational needs in the South West and East of England are being funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). Both projects are also being supported by a range of partners with expertise in the sport, leisure and tourism industries such as Sport England, Natural England, Regional Government Offices, Regional Assemblies, Regional Development Agencies and British Waterways.

In Wales, a year-long project to plan new or improved water sport facilities is being funded by the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) and Environment Agency Wales and supported by another set of ‘expert’ partners including the Countryside Council for Wales, Visit Wales, Welsh Sports Council and British Waterways.

Julia Simpson, the Environment Agency’s Head of Recreation, Navigation and Marine, said: “It is the Environment Agency’s job to look after the water environment in England and Wales and to balance its needs with those of people and wildlife.

“This means not only managing how much water is abstracted to maintain supplies but also planning and promoting water-related sport and recreation in a way that generates the greatest economic, social and environmental benefits. It means working to understand how we need to adjust our leisure activities to take account of the unavoidable impacts of climate change, such as more frequent drought and flooding and rising sea levels.

“Also, thanks to improvements in the environmental performance of businesses and tough regulation, water quality is the best it has been for two centuries and it is continuing to improve. This will open up more water for recreational use in the future and we need to work in partnership with others to identify these growth areas and decide how best to utilise them.”

The English projects are focusing on the South West and East England because both regions contain coastal and inland waters and water-based leisure and tourism is a key contributor to the local economy. Both areas are also earmarked to play a part in the 2012 Olympics - with all sailing events taking place out of Weymouth and the Lee Valley Park’s White-water Canoe Slalom Course, at Broxbourne in Hertfordshire, pencilled in to host the world’s top paddlers.

A research team headed by Professor Andrew Church and Professor Neil Ravenscroft – leading experts in outdoor recreation based at the University of Brighton - will carry out the study. The team also includes Professor Nigel Curry from the University of Gloucestershire and researchers from exeGesIS Spatial Data Management Ltd, Collingwood Environmental Planning and G&L Hughes Ltd.

The English and Welsh projects – the first of their kind - are:

· Auditing existing water-related recreational facilities and use and,

· Collating Environment Agency data on water flow, water quality and rises in sea level to get a clearer picture of how the English regions and Wales are responding to improvements in water management and climate change and how this will impact on sport and recreation in the future.

Workshops involving a wide range of interest groups, including sporting and governing bodies, conservation agencies, landowners and local authorities, have also been held to gather views on current and future provision for water-related sport and recreation. Organisations that took part included the National Association of Fisheries & Angling Consultatives, the Salmon & Trout Association and the Royal Yachting Association.

But now everyone, from boaters and paddlers to ramblers and anglers, can get involved by logging onto www.brighton.ac.uk/waterrecreation and commenting on the opinions expressed and issues identified at the recent workshops. The deadline for online feedback is 30 September 2007.

Julia Simpson continued: “We need new or improved facilities that have a positive impact on people’s quality of life at minimum cost to the environment and we want to create a debate about the right way to do this.

“Our study will help decision-makers, such as local authorities, planners and governing bodies, take an informed view on sport and leisure development. It will also assist funding bodies decide where money is needed most and used to best effect.”

The study findings will be submitted to Defra and WAG in spring 2008.

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