How best to pay for Pentlands?

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Bill Henderson says event organisers must contribute to the upkeep of the regional park, while Bob Johnson is worried about the impact on outdoor pursuits

By Bill Henderson

MORE than 600,000 visitors are attracted annually to the Pentlands for walking, mountain biking, fishing and other outdoor pursuits.

The Pentland Hills Regional Park is also a popular venue for a growing number of recreational events, including sponsored walks, horse riding, hill running and orienteering, mountain biking, and increasingly single events involving multiple activities.

Maintaining the park’s paths is a major challenge. They are subject to significant erosion from usage and the wetter conditions experienced increasingly in recent years that may be associated with climate change. As a result of the intensity of footfall on a single day, recreational events can contribute significantly to the wear and tear.

As the chair of the regional park, it is heartening to see the Pentland Hills enjoyed by so many people. Events are a fantastic way for people to participate in physical exercise and enjoy the outdoors. We welcome events and want them to be successful, of a high quality and well-supported. However, the annual programme needs to be sustainable. That means it needs to minimise damage to paths, not unreasonably interfere with the enjoyment of other people or land management operations, and help towards the maintenance of the paths system.

The current position means that, providing permission of land owners is secured, there is limited effective control over the number, frequency or timing of events.

It is proposed, therefore, to seek to develop a working agreement between the regional park and landowners. A working group, including local authority officers, land owners/managers and, importantly, event organisers, will be set up to develop a draft concordat on the sustainable management of recreational events in the Pentland Hills Regional Park.

The goal is that visitors can travel to, enjoy, and travel home from the park by foot, cycle, or horse. Enjoyment now – and in the future – depends on good quality and sustainably managed infrastructure. The concordat will be an important step towards this goal.

• Councillor Bill Henderson is chairman of the Pentland Hills Regional Park.

By Bob Johnson

Carnethy Hill Running Club is an Edinburgh club with the aim of encouraging members to get out into the hills in order to race and/or train. In 30 years, the club has grown to more than 300 members with a range of abilities from beginners through to expert.

The club organises several races in the Pentlands and the two big ones are the Carnethy 5, which has been held since 1971, and the Pentland

Skyline, which has been staged since 1986.

The club takes pride in keeping entry fees to a minimum. What that means in practice is that we charge £15 to enter the Carnethy 5 and £5 for the Skyline. We also provide great prizes in order to encourage people to take part.

Our fees are low because we can rely on volunteers from the membership for marshalling and managing health and safety issues.

We understand that the council is considering a fee for events staged in the Pentland Hills.

The club recognises that runners do damage the hills and we have changed race routes according to landowners’ wishes and pay-for gates and the like in order to minimise such damage.

The club also recognises that other organisations are looking to run events in the Pentlands and that the recent trend – at least among other events – is an increase in entry fees to more than £20 per person nowadays.

The crux of the problem for us is what any fees that are charged are going to be used for.

We could make further contributions to the upkeep of the hills. We already frequently donate to the mountain rescue, Friends of the Pentlands and other such groups.

However, we would struggle with the idea of any so-called “tax” on these races.

We see great value in attracting people into the hills – they are proud to finish, they gain crucial fitness and they start to cherish the hills like we do.

We therefore recommend that the council approach government to set aside a small slice of the NHS budget – prevention of disease through

fitness is all the rage nowadays.

• Bob Johnson is secretary of the Carnethy Hill Running Club.

SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE

• THE Pentland Hill Regional Park covers 50 square miles of upland countryside on the doorstep of Edinburgh.

• The main uses of the land include farming, military training and the provision of a large part of the Lothians water supply.

• The regional park has more than 100 kilometres of managed paths.

• In 2012, 36 events took place involving 3356 participants.

• The regional park is managed jointly by Edinburgh City, Midlothian and West Lothian councils.

• The park management hopes to establish a protocol for event organisers to contribute either financially or in kind to its upkeep.

• The regional park provides event organisers with guidance on how to run successful and sustainable events (see www.pentlandhills.org).