Reluctant minorities get day trips to country

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The Independent Online

The Government is to help fund day trips to national parks for Asian and black people to find out why so few of them visit the English countryside.

The Government is to help fund day trips to national parks for Asian and black people to find out why so few of them visit the English countryside.

Ministers are concerned that, despite their huge popularity, areas such as the Peak District and the North York Moors are perceived as the domain of the white middle class. They believe that the countryside's idyllic image, created by poets such as Wordsworth, gives an outmoded idea of Britishness and deters non-white families.

Last week, a report commissioned by the Runnymede Trust added fuel to the race debate by criticising traditional concepts of Britishness and claiming that Britain's "national story" ignored the presence of ethnic minorities.

Now, the Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions has agreed to help fund a three-year project encouraging people from non-white backgrounds to indulge in rural pursuits.

The study, being carried out by the University of Durham, is also backed by the Economic and Social Research Council and the Council for National Parks (CNP). A total of 200 people from ethnic minority communities in Middlesbrough and Sheffield will take part. As part of the research, participants will be taken by minibus to the North York Moors and the Peak District in Derbyshire, where researchers will then record their experiences.

They will also be asked about their perceptions of the countryside, for example whether it is too cold or too rugged, and about problems with access, such as needing a car.

Half the population of England lives within 90 minutes' travelling distance of a national park. The parks were originally intended to address the spiritual needs of the nation after the Second World War, and to help people escape from the pollution of urban areas. However, countryside groups, including the CNP, agree that the needs of ethnic minorities must be addressed.

Professor Ash Amin, who is heading the study, said people would also be asked if the countryside evoked feelings of neighbourhood and belonging which they did not share, and if they felt it was a hostile place where they received racist remarks.

"If it is not for them we have to find out why not, and what is it like for them being there and meeting people who live in the countryside," said Professor Amin. "The perception is that there is some degree of prejudice. There is a certain middle-class community that tends to go out into the countryside. There are lads who clock up a number of peaks and then drink themselves silly. The question is: have we kept up with the times and do we have a multi-ethnic sense of the English countryside?"

His views are shared by Vicki Elcoate, director of the CNP. "Refugees may come from rural areas, and a lot of things which are important about landscapes are important to them," she said. "We need to effect some sort of cultural change within the communities we reach."

Yesterday, the study was welcomed by the Black Environmental Network, which is carrying out its own research into the issue. "We already know that this is a problem," said a spokeswoman. "As with other equal opportunities there is a strategy in place to make sure it is initiated. We want to make sure that happens."

The Department of Environment Transport and the Regions said the research would help to devise ways of encouraging people to use parks.