Breaking Barriers

The British Mountaineering Council Paves The Way For Inclusive Outdoor Access

We believe that everyone should have access to our great outdoors. This is why we’re so proud to partner with the British Mountaineering Council (BMC), they're working hard to improve access for all. But while progress is being made, there’s still a way to go.

In this blog, we share the key insights from the BMC’s recent research into access to the outdoors and discuss ways to start addressing the barriers people face with Mary-Ann Ochota, the BMC’s Hillwalking Ambassador.

Understanding The Barriers Preventing People Accessing The Outdoors

Did you know that only 38% of survey respondents said they could easily access the outdoors? In May, the BMC investigated people’s experiences with accessing the outdoors. Their research highlighted the invisible barriers that prevent some members of our society from easily getting outside. They found that: 

  • People who earn the living wage are twice as likely to never visit the countryside compared to those that earn more. 
  • Less than four in ten people can easily access the countryside with a fifth having never visited or doing so less than once a year. 
  • One in ten people feel intimidated to go into the countryside to take part in outdoor activities. 18-24 year olds were four times more likely to report this feeling than 45-54 year olds. 


In response to their findings, the BMC created an Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) strategy. Its key aim is to break down the invisible barriers preventing members of our society from accessing the outdoors, creating an inclusive environment for everyone to explore comfortably. They’re also calling on the government along with several other organisations, to take more serious action. 

Learn more about what the BMC’s findings mean in their quick explainer video:

Outdoors For All

Digging Further Into The Issues: An Interview With Mary-Ann Ochota

We spoke with Mary-Ann Ochota, TV presenter and BMC Hillwalking Ambassador, to better understand the issues faced by members in our community wanting to access the great outdoors and take part in outdoor activities.

Mary, can you tell us a bit about the BMC’s report?

A lot of us have a perception that the countryside is free and it's easy to access. You just put your boots on, jump in the car, and go somewhere lovely for a picnic, a bike ride or a dog walk.  The truth is, many of us take this for granted. The things that might be easy for some of us are a lot more difficult for others. Access could mean getting the right kit or travelling to your destination. It’s easy enough if you've got a car, but sometimes, it’s incredibly difficult if you rely on public transport. If you're dealing with a mental or physical health condition, then you’ll also need to think about accessibility. Also, people with caring responsibilities are massively limited. Sometimes in terms of where they can go, what they can do, or how easy it is to enjoy and explore different locations.  


Many of us know how powerful the outdoors is for improving our physical health and mental well-being. It gives us some kind of emotional resilience and a break from the stresses of everyday life. It helps us recharge, gives us a breath of fresh air, and allows us to connect to nature before getting back to the hustle and bustle of life. 


But another thing that prevents many from accessing the outdoors is financial stability. People who’re living on a low wage and struggling to make ends meet are the people who would most benefit from time spent outdoors. Yet, they're the ones who’re finding it the hardest to access.  


To resolve this problem, we require systemic change. But we need help from larger organisations. They must focus on reaching out to the people who need help and create ways to remove the barriers that stand in the way of them and the outdoors.  


It’s not just a moral imperative to fight for change. It's also critically important for our health as a nation, the well-being of our communities, and for supporting our NHS. 

How can people begin to overcome the barriers and enjoy the benefits of the countryside sooner?

For people reading this and thinking, oh, I want to do that, but I wouldn't know where to start. They can head to the BMC website where they’ll find reliable, trustworthy information about how to start getting active in the great outdoors.  


And you don’t need to own expensive kit to explore most places. For a countryside walk, a pair of leggings or joggers and good shoes to walk in is all that’s required. Just have some consideration for keeping yourself safe.  


If you’d like to go somewhere more remote, you’ll need to think about the weather conditions and how long you’ll be out. Do you own a waterproof jacket, and will you need to take snacks? Do you know a safe means of getting to and from your destination, too? If you don't have a safe route to follow or are unsure how to get back home, or you don't have anyone to borrow the right kit from, get in touch with us to learn more about the other routes and activities available to you.  

If someone’s looking for a group to join or an activity that they’re interested in trying, where’s a good place for them to start?

There's a network of BMC clubs and other organisations who specialise in outdoor activities, such as cycling, canoeing, paddleboarding and walking. Anyone can reach out to these groups. If you’d like to have a go but need some advice before getting started, organisers will be more than happy to have a chat about getting you set up! 


The onus is on those clubs and organisations to make sure their volunteers, staff, and group leaders are completely on board to create an inclusive space that anyone can feel comfortable in. They should have the all the answers to your questions.  


This means that when you do turn up at the bus stop, the car park, the train station, or wherever the meeting point for the activity, you'll arrive feeling confident and welcome.   

What’s one thing you’d like everyone reading this to remember?

We must steer clear of saying you need to be wearing full technical kit to enjoy the outdoors and take part in activities. Instead, we need to create inclusive spaces where people from all backgrounds can feel confident, no matter what their level of experience. 


We also need to have better role models and more representation of different communities, so that everyone can be supported in doing the outdoor activities they want to do safely and responsibly. Ultimately, that’s great for the economy too; for rural businesses and farmers alike. The outdoors should be for all. This is really important, and it needs to be the government’s priority. 

Thanks for taking the time to speak with us, Mary-Ann! It’s clear there’s a lot of factors that affect access to our great outdoors, but by raising more awareness of the challenges and working together, we can reduce those barriers. 


If this article has resonated with you, or you’d like to find a way you can help, find more information on the BMC’s website. Plus, learn more about how Cotswold Outdoor is supporting the incredible work of the BMC through our partnership here.  


For free advice and guidance on finding the right kit for your outdoor adventures, visit us in-store to talk to our experts. Find your nearest store here.  

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