Ramblers to give name the boot

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The Independent Online

The Ramblers' Association, bastion of middle-aged and middle-class walkers, is about to take a shocking turn. Not a "mass trespass" on the land of arch-enemy landowner Nicholas van Hoogstraten, but something far more radical.

The Ramblers' Association, bastion of middle-aged and middle-class walkers, is about to take a shocking turn. Not a "mass trespass" on the land of arch-enemy landowner Nicholas van Hoogstraten, but something far more radical.

The association is calling for a new name and and a younger breed of member. The Countryside Bill will deliver the Ramblers' holy grail, open access to moorland, downland and heath as more people take to the countryside for recreation. The Ramblers' membership has risen from 20,000 to 130,000 in 30 years.

The right-to-roam legislation and the rising popularity of foot power, from gentle hikes to marathons, has convinced the charity it must attract fresh blood to survive as the voice of British walking.

Half a dozen specialist magazines cater to younger walkers, more interested in challenging terrain far from popular rambling routes. So the Ramblers are targeting the under-35s, ethnic minorities and the disabled. But trendy titles for the organisation- Walking UK is being considered - will be vigorously resisted by its backbone of older members.

Initial moves will include opening more walking clubs for under-35s and, perhaps, recruiting in schools and universities. Classic areas such as access and rights of way stay key priorities, but the Ramblers' will lay more emphasis on issues such as the health benefits of walking, sustainable transport and social inclusion.

Nick Barrett, who takes over as chief executive in December, said: "It's important we do not present this as a case of 'old is bad and 'young' is good. We have to show we are working for walkers."

One member, sympathetic to change, warned: "The Ramblers' are well overdue for a revamp but if they think it will come easy they're in for a fight that may turn dirty."

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