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Events > 2004

The Second Wainwright Memorial Lecture
Saturday October 16th 2004
The Theatre by the Lake Keswick

Richard Wakeford
Chief Executive of the Countryside Agency

who spoke on the subject of

The second memorial lecture was, as they say, as different as cheese from chalk from the first held last year at Rheged. The location at The Theatre by the Lake in Keswick was equally splendid but quite different in the theatre layout as compared with the IMAX cinema at Rheged. The speaker, whilst being known as the head of a major government organisation, Richard Wakeford is not the 'celebrity' that is Hunter Davies. Richard admitted to being pretty ignorant of the Society and its aims and having only climbed one 'Wainwright' - but what a choice - Haystacks. The subject did not contain a single AW anecdote but was nevertheless very close to the hearts of our members and particularly those who were privileged to hear him.

The title Open Access Flagship for a Walking Revolution gave us a clue as to what to expect but the breadth of his lecture surprised and delighted us all. His talk ranged from the legislation from 1949 to the present day, the enormous mapping exercise to identify 'access land' the contribution to the environment and to health of the nation.

Wainwright's admiration of maps and particularly the old 2.5" series now called Explorer and despite AW's reputation as a 'technophobe' he would certainly have valued the end result and its infinite flexibility of presentation. Richard described how in January 2005 the Agency will deliver to the Ordnance Survey a CD containing the areas of Access Land which they have mapped over the past four years and that by the end of May of next year the OS will have translated the data into a coloured wash on a new edition of the Explorer maps. He stressed that of course creating new areas of access will not automatically result in people exercising that right and what is needed is a communicator such as was AW to create the enthusiasm for going there.

The 'access' story goes back a long way and Richard referred to Jean Gilligan and the early pioneers, the 1949 Act giving 'Access to the Countryside', National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Nature Reserves , Sites of Special Scientific Interest, Rights of Way, Long Distance Routes etc etc. Richard pondered as to what AW thought of the goings on at Kinder Scout in 1932. He outlined the help that new technology such GPS will be to the walkers of the future in locating detail down to a fine level, and the new mapping also will aid the land managers in their important task.

So one of the future tasks is to communicate the delight the open areas to a wider group for as he said 97% of all visitors to National Parks are white, middle class and 70% own a car. The challenge is to get a greater diversity into the 'walking population'.

The next task for the Agency will be to concentrate on five areas - transport, health, education, social inclusion, and sustainable tourism as these are perceived by the public as the top priorities.

The benefits to the health of the nation of walking were of course well understood by members of the Society as huge numbers of others. In 1966 Fellwalker published an article which included the phrase. 'Fell walking brings immunity against accidents'. It is a wonderful exercise, the best of all. You can't get these benefits through the Welfare State, nor from a doctor, nor from pills'. Along with the British Heart Foundation the Agency has created the 'Walking the Way to Health' initiative to encourage more than a million people to take regular exercise.

Richard gave us a new word to describe the feeling when we "Imagine the colours of autumn woods, sunlight reflecting on water, the sounds of birdsong, the smell of fresh air, the wind on your face; the varied shades, textures and forms of a countryside 'view'. If you can feel yourself relaxing - just with this description - then you are experiencing something called 'Biophilia'". This new word means simply the love of living things!

Educating our youngsters as to where their food comes from is also seen as part of the objectives of a new integrated organisation which seek to "join up natural heritage and people". The launch of a new Countryside Code in summer has all the practicality of the old but is simpler and explains more of the 'why', demanded by today's audiences. This code will be illustrated on public service announcements using animations by 'Creature Comforts' (the presenters of the Wallace & Grommit series), so watch out!

What is the message? Richard Wakeford says:

"Respect, protect and enjoy". And so say all of us!

The Society is most grateful to Richard and the agency for his visit to Keswick and the encouraging news which he brought on a subject so dear to us all.