It is something many of us take for granted, that on these lovely spring days we have been having over Easter, we can head out into the countryside to enjoy the sunny weather, spectacular scenery and wonderful wildlife that the south west has to offer.

However, for many people with disabilities, it is not as easy as just heading out the door to wherever they fancy. My personal perspective on disabled access in the countryside has been influenced by two people in particular, both called Andrew, who have challenged my preconceptions and made me think about access in a new light.

The first is my late father in law who, having suffered a stroke in his forties, was unable to carry on with his main hobby of boat fishing off the Lancashire coast where he lived. In order to get around, he first had just a regular mobility scooter, fine for going around town, but not anything more adventurous. He soon got in touch with his local Disabled Ramblers, and invested in a tramper – a sort of off road mobility scooter. An engineer by trade, he of course did some extra modifications to the scooter – changing the gear ratio so he could go up steeper slopes, fitting a GPS to the handlebars and swapping for chunkier tyres. With his local club, he was then able to go on rambles to all sorts of spectacular locations including most of the way up Snowdon! This hobby and the friends he made through it drastically improved his quality of life and gave him great enjoyment, as well as allowing him to continue to walk his dog every day!

There are very easy things that can be done to make sites suitable for mobility scooters, especially trampers, the most obvious being having gates rather than stiles where possible, and slopes rather than steps. While it is not possible for every site, it is definitely something land managers can be thinking about when creating new routes or adapting existing sites.

At two of our lakes – Siblyback and Wimbleball – we have trampers available for hire thanks to Countryside Mobility, and our staff are trained to induct people who have never used one before. It is a great way for the whole family to explore the sites together.

The second Andrew that has been a great inspiration and champion for access for all in the countryside, is one of the members of my Upstream Thinking volunteer group that we run on behalf of Cornwall Wildlife Trust. The group carries out all sorts of conservation tasks at College and Argal Lakes and the surrounding farms, including clearing scrub, tree planting, woodland management and meadow management. Andrew is blind and approached me last year saying that while he regularly went for walks exploring the countryside and coast with his family, and did all his own vegetable gardening at home, he was keen to get more involved in the countryside in a hands on way. I have to say that at first I was a bit unsure, having never really met anyone who was blind or visually impaired, and wondered how he would be able to manage the tasks. However, after the first session that he attended, my mind was put completely at ease, and my preconceptions out of the window! After the task has been explained and he has been started off in the right place, Andrew works just as fast as the rest of us, using touch to complete the task and various objects to orientate himself. It is also great for the rest of us in the group; describing the sites and details of the tasks definitely gives us all a new appreciation of the interesting places we work in.

It is very interesting to hear his perspective on what countryside sites could do better to improve access and enjoyment in the countryside for visually impaired people. He is especially keen on 3D maps to help orientation in the landscape and also realistic 3D models of wildlife to help with interpretation and engagement. These are both things that could very easily be incorporated in to the interpretation we have at the lakes, a great asset for everyone, but especially people who are visually impaired.

Andrew is a great advocate for countryside access, and has a YouTube channel where he uploads videos he creates of character called Bryan. If you are interested in how you can make visiting the countryside a more engaging experience for visually impaired people, watch Bryan’s Quest:

Thanks in part to these two inspirational people, I believe strongly that in our position of responsibility as land managers, it is vitally important that we try, where possible, to open up the sites to as many people as possible, so that we can all enjoy the many benefits of a great day out in the countryside.

Beth Cross, Senior Countryside Warden – Cornwall