Marion Shoard receives her award from guild president Roly Smith. The award takes the form of an original painting of North Uist by guild member David Bellamy. Photo: Jon Sparks

Marion Shoard receives her award from guild president Roly Smith. The award takes the form of an original painting of North Uist by guild member David Bellamy. Photo: Jon Sparks

Once, it was landowners’ fencing that kept people from the great outdoors; now, mental barriers are stopping people from enjoying the countryside.

That’s the claim of renowned author Marion Shoard, whose books were instrumental in finally bringing about right-to-roam laws in England. Ms Shoard recently received the Golden Eagle award from the Outdoor Writers and Photographers Guild for her contribution to the outdoors.

She chose the guild’s presentation evening on Anglesey to bemoan the fact that children’s enjoyment of the outdoors is being restricted by overbearing protectiveness. The gains made by opening up the countryside are being squandered because people are too frightened to take advantage of them.

She said: “Fifty years ago, children would come out of school and disappear until it got dark, messing about somewhere doing all sorts of things. Now, their lives are far more organised and supervised, and this changes their attitude to the countryside.

“Shepherded by parents, children proceed cautiously on bicycles in the artificial environments of country parks, their crash helmets an ever-present reminder of the dangers they are constantly warned might threaten their safety. Ferried around by car, they get used to treating the countryside as a background, rather than a theatre for self-exploration.

“The incarceration of our children has consequences which go on into adulthood.

“The fences that stop people taking full advantage of the spiritual and psychological benefits that only enjoyment of the countryside can bring are now no longer being put up only by landowners; they are also being erected within the minds of the people themselves. This is the new theft of the countryside.”

Making the presentation, guild president Roly Smith said: “Marion, perhaps above all countryside writers, was responsible for creating the right political environment which allowed the passing of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act of 2000.

“Marion’s three passionate yet meticulously argued books: The Theft of the Countryside, This Land is Our Land and A Right to Roam, published in 1999, just before the act reached the statute book, all served to influence the legislation.”

Other awards made by the guild were to Richard Gregory, the Peak District National Park’s longest-serving ranger, who received the guild’s special achievement award, sponsored by Aston Hotels.

Peak national park chief executive Jim Dixon said: “When I think of a classic national park employee, a person who has given a huge amount of their life and thought to the national park, I always think of Richard. He has a depth of knowledge and insight based on years of experience.”

The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir mattress, said to be the world’s lightest air mattress, won the guild’s Derryck Draper award for innovation in the outdoors. The award was accepted by Chris Watts, of First Ascent Marketing, the UK representative of Therm-a-Rest.

Other winners were: Lofoten Rock by Chris Craggs and Thorbjørn Enevold; The Peak District by Fran Halsall who also won the photography award; Rudolf Abraham for Velebit; Sea to Source by Judy Armstrong, and Pining for the Fjords by Tom Hutton.

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