The Ramblers’ Association in Scotland has elected a retiring MSP as its president.

Dennis Canavan, an independent member of the Holyrood parliament, will give up his seat at the next election. The Ramblers elected him its formal head at its annual meeting at Dunblane, Perthshire. He will take over the role from magazine editor Cameron McNeish.

Mr Canavan said: “The Ramblers are a major force in protecting the outdoor environment and securing public access for all.

“As a member of the Scottish Parliament I have valued working with the Ramblers to help deliver a world-class national parks system and right-to-roam legislation. I hope, through my Ramblers’ role, to continue to help the people of Scotland meet the challenges of the future.

“Physical exercise and enjoying the outdoors has always been a key part of my life and I greatly welcome the opportunity to help the Ramblers in their efforts to promote walking for everyone, as an essential part of a healthy lifestyle.”

Alison Mitchell, convener of the Ramblers’ Association (RA) Scotland said: “We really value the political and outdoor experience which Dennis will bring to the RA.

“Few politicians complete their career with such a high reputation. No wonder First Minister, Jack McConnell described Dennis as ‘a man of integrity and honesty and a great parliamentarian who has made an outstanding contribution to Scotland and our national life’.

“We look forward to working with Dennis across all the issues that we have identified in our Manifesto for the Outdoors.”

The 64-year-old member for Falkirk West was deselected by Labour at the first Holyrood elections. He won his seat as an Independent and subsequently gained the highest majority in Scotland. He successfully fought for the inclusion of the Queen’s Estates in the right-to-roam legislation.

Two of his five children have died, one of skin cancer and another of a brain tumour. A third, living in Australia, has motor-neurone disease. He decided to step down from the Scottish Parliament to spend more time with his family, saying he had been taught a lesson about life’s real priorities.