Press

press releases & policy papers

08 December 2021

December 8th, 2021, an important peer reviewed journal  was published to help better understand the motivations and behaviours of mountain bikers towards sustainability and the natural environment. The research was led by Napier University, one of IMBA EU’s current project partners of the DIRTT project (Developing Inter-European Resources for Trail building Training).

As a promoter of trail stewardship and sustainable mountain biking, this study provided a better understanding of how mountain bikers interact with the natural environment. The extent in which mountain biking impacts upon the environment is often determined by the riders attitude and behaviour towards sustainability. This study illustrates that European mountain bikers do in fact care about the state of the natural environment, and mostly felt a sense of ownership to their local trails. Furthermore, results from the study suggested that there was a willingness to reduce environmental impact and actively protect nature.

Key findings:

  • 98% of respondents reported that sustainability of mountain bike trails was important to them
  • 75% believed they had a good understanding of what makes a good sustainable trail
  • 60% felt a personal ownership to their local trails
  • 91% feel that mountain bikers should volunteer in trail maintenance
  • Use of unauthorised trails is greatest in countries where riders reported a shortage of appropriate legal trails.”Trail Use, Motivations, and Environmental Attitudes of 3780 European Mountain Bikers: What Is Sustainable?”.Authored by Napier University Scotland, Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland, IMBA Europe and the Mountain Bike Centre of Scotland.

Full journal article is available here

05 July 2021

IMBA Europe will participate in a new European Erasmus project called SEE (Sustainability and Outdoor Education). The SEE project aims to increase outdoor sports participation and enhance the protection of natural landscapes through education on responsible outdoor behavior. This will be achieved through collaboration between outdoor sports professionals and conservation organisations across Europe.

Leave No Trace Ireland served as the lead applicant and will be the project leader of the three-year programme and will be working alongside the following organisations:

Over the three years, the project will aim to produce several research reports analysing challenges of sport in nature and the current developments in environmental education for outdoor professionals. An environmental toolkit will be created which will be specifically for environmental education and leadership training. The toolkit will act as a compilation of best practices, case studies and include new educational material for different landscapes/environments, different sports, different participants and different formats.

Several exchange programmes will take place during the project . These exchanges will be based in Serbia, Portugal, France, Sweden and Ireland and will bring together outdoor recreation stakeholders. The toolkit and the methods developed for environmental education will be tested and evaluated before the final publication. The project will finish with an international learning symposium.

Maura Kiely, CEO of Leave No Trace Ireland, says this initiative is poignant and timely, “Covid-19 pandemic and lock-downs have shown the world that access to outdoor sport and recreation are essential to our mental and physical well-being. We need to have a
coordinated approach to outdoor education across Europe to protect the environment for future generations.” Dr Noel Doyle, who will be the project manager, expressed his excitement for the project. “Very rarely do you get the opportunity for this level of collaboration across a variety of countries. The wealth of knowledge and experience presented by the partners will make for an engaging project with significant outputs”.

Mark Torsius, general manager of IMBA Europe, agrees that this project is perfectly timed. ‘European countries that allowed outdoor recreation during lock-downs, witnessed a huge increase in trail usage by mountain bikers’. It’s clear that all people that practice outdoor sports should do this responsibly and minimize their impact on the natural environment. To best way to achieve this is through education. We are excited to work together with a highly regarded institution like Leave no Trace and all other project partners to create a succesful project with a positive impact in many EU countries’.

For more information, visit the SEE-project website or Leave no Trace Ireland

05 July 2021

IMBA Europe embraces the proposed new EU Forest Strategy, in alignment with the ambitious vision of the Green New Deal to ensure that the EU becomes a sustainable and climate neutral economy by 2050. This paper highlights the commitments of IMBA to sustainability practices and promotion of environmental education, whilst also providing recommendations and feedback for the EU commission in relation to the EU Forestry strategy.

The comprehensive EU Forest Strategy will look to ensure that forests are addressed in a consistent manner across different policies.  IMBA recognises the importance of the new EU Forest Strategy in protecting our forests through restoration and sustainable management, as well as education. In order to protect the many services forests provide it is important to understand the current pressures of climate change, which aggravate other key drivers of pressures. Forests are hugely important ecosystems to mitigate climate change and biodiversity conservation, as well as supporting local economies, through recreation and sport.

IMBA Europe is aware of the potential impacts on the natural environment and we recognise the seriousness and value in protecting the natural environment through education and protection. As outdoor enthusiasts, it has become increasingly obvious that the forests are under increasing pressure as a direct result of climate change. Other observed pressures from our members is lack of management and fragmentation due to land use changes. The forest based sector should contribute to preserving the natural environment, through avoiding unsustainable practices in order to secure the future welfare and benefits of forest environments.

IMBA EUROPE AND THE NEW EU FOREST STRATEGY

It is both the vision of IMBA Europe and the EU Forest strategy that forests and the forest based sector continue to be a ‘natural home for recreation and learning’. IMBA aims to get more people on bikes through sustainable mountain biking, and increase awareness of the importance of preserving our natural environment through education. It is the mission of IMBA Europe to improve people’s lives through this connection to nature and the environment. It is our responsibility to work towards sustainable riding, sustainable trail building and advocate responsibility and respect for nature, in order to encourage and teach the mountain biking communities of Europe to do the same.

Recent studies have shown that participation in outdoor sports has further increased since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, particularly in the sales of mountain bikes (Platter, 2021). There are many benefits to participation in outdoor sports, from mental and physical well-being, to the economic benefits in rural areas. A recent and ongoing EU project, ‘The Benefits of Outdoor Sports for Society’ (BOSS), has developed through a multi-disciplinary sequential approach to measure the benefits of outdoor sports for society. From 133 relevant studies over a period of 15 years, evidence of the benefits of outdoor sports has been categorized into six broad categories (Eigenschenk, B, et al, 2018).

  • Physical health
  • Mental and wellbeing
  • Education and life-long learning
  • Active citizenship
  • Crime and anti-social behaviour
  • Additional benefits

There is growing evidence of the health and mental benefits of being in nature, or having contact with the natural environment (Brink et al, 2016). Furthermore, outdoor sports, such as mountain biking, can be seen as a key way to engage people with ‘health enhancing physical activity, (HEPA) which is a priority of the European commission and member states.

IMBA EUROPE’S PROPOSALS ON THE EU FOREST STRATEGY

As mentioned above, IMBA Europe is aware of the current pressures forests are under from climate change, and the associated key drivers. The EU Forest Strategy will seek measures to avoid or correct unsustainable practices, in order to increase the protection of forests and restoration efforts to achieve the EU’s Climate and Biodiversity objectives. IMBA Europe advocates for sustainable trail building practices, and achieving greater access to forests in order to avoid unsustainable practices, such as illegal trail building. We believe that we need to work towards inclusive access, instead of access that is exclusively for hikers/walkers in these natural environments. In order to achieve this goal of more inclusive access to forests, we believe there needs to be greater investment by the EU commission, and provision of better incentives (e.g. financial resources) for both forest public and private owners/ managers to manage forests appropriately for a variety of targeted audiences. When designed well, mountain bike (MTB) trails meet user needs and encourage responsible use of trails, which minimises impact on the environment. A mitigating measure to enhance the recreational carrying capacity of forests is to improve trail accessibility, and better recreational trail infrastructure.

Included in the EU Forest Strategies goals, is to ensure that a synergy is found between socio-economic interests in forests, and the protection of forests. In order to achieve this synergy, and protect the future welfare of our forests, education in sustainable forestry and practices will be essential. IMBA is currently working on several projects working towards educating and implementing sustainable environmental practices in the outdoors. The SEE project (Sustainability and Environmental Education in Outdoor Sports) is a 3 year Erasmus project, funded by the EU, which will promote education in and through sport with special focus on skills development for outdoor sports professionals such as outdoor sports trainers, guides, or instructors. The SEE Project will also help to promote increased voluntary activities in sport, together with social inclusion, equal opportunities and awareness of the importance of health-enhancing physical activity all in a frame of sustainable development and in line with the new Green Deal for Europe. As highlighted in the EU Forestry Strategy, ‘strong research and innovative agenda to improve knowledge of forests and optimize composition, structure, management and use’ is necessary to continue and promote outdoor sports, which is what projects like the SEE project are aiming to achieve. Synergy between the environment and outdoors sports.

LOCAL ECONOMIC BENEFITS OF MOUNTAIN BIKING TOURISM

Sustainable recreational sport and tourism will be a key driver in supporting local economies in a post covid era. The recent policy recommendations from the Commission for Natural Resources in relation to the policy ‘Towards more sustainable tourism for EU cities and regions’, highlights tourism as a strategic sector, a tool for integration and a key driver of social and economic recovery. Mountain biking as a sport and recreational activity has grown rapidly over the past two decades, with an increased demand for further development and marketing of mountain bike trails and parks. This increase in demand allows for further job creation within the mountain bike industry. Greater access and inclusivity to forests will encourage local economies to invest more in the infrastructure surrounding the forests, through hospitality, bike shops, guiding services and accommodation. Investing in greater outdoor sport inclusivity within forests, aligns with the EU forestry strategies planning for forests of the future – “new training, skilled jobs that reflect multiple functions”. An example of such training within the mountain biking sector, which would lead to forest based industry jobs, is the current EU project ‘Developing Intereuropean Resources for Trail building Training’. The DIRTT project aims to develop an educational framework and professional training program for people active in the trail building sector, addressing the needs of professionals and volunteers in the field of planning, design, construction, maintenance and management of mountain bike trails. IMBA Europe is one of the partners in the project, including advocacy organisations, sports associations, governmental and educational institutions, tourism, as well as private enterprises in the MTB trail building sector.

In summary, in alignment with the EU Forest Strategy, IMBA Europe aims to ensure that a synergy is found between socio-economic interests in forests, and the protection of biodiversity in forests. To achieve this synergy, and see that all stakeholders will continue to benefit from our forests, education in sustainable outdoor practices is essential.  IMBA Europe will continue to advocate for easy access to sustainable mountain bike and shared-use trails, from close-to-home rides to iconic, backcountry experiences through working closely with land managers and governing bodies. Through our focus on creating and catalyzing more trails close to home, we aim to serve mountain bikers as well as economic, health and quality-of-life needs of growing urban population centers, struggling industrial towns and everything in between.  Our ongoing mission is to improve people’s lives with better health, climate and economics through mountain biking.

References:

  • Martin Platter (9. März 2021) Schweizerische Fachstelle Velo und E-Bike SFVE, fachstelle-velo.ch
  • Eigenschenk, B., Thomann, A., McClure, M. (2018). Benefits of Outdoor Sports for Society (BOSS). Literature review. European Network of Outdoor Sports: Brussels.
  • ten Brink, P., Mutafoglu, K., Schweitzer, J-P., Kettunen M., Twigger-Ross, C., Baker, J., Kuipers, Y., Emonts, M., Tyrväinen, L., Hujala, T., & Ojala, A. (2016). The Health and Social Benefits of Nature and Biodiversity Protection. A report for the European Commission, Institute for European Environmental Policy, London/Brussels.
  • Sustainability and Outdoor Education, https://www.leavenotraceireland.org/see-project/
  • Developing Inter European Resources for Trailbuilding Training https://www.imba-europe.org/news/dirtt-project-%E2%80%93-path-sustainabl…

 

11 September 2020

The project consortium involved in the DIRTT project (Developing Intereuropean Resources for Trail Building Training) delivered its first research results. Edinburgh Napier University (ENU) conducted an MTB trail sector survey, followed by a consumer survey. The trail sector survey was aimed at trail building companies, the forestry sector, tourism professionals and other stakeholders involved in the planning, design, construction, maintenance, and management of MTB trails. In total, 121 survey respondents from 16 different European countries provided data suitable for inclusion in this report.

The research highlights the skill gaps currently present in the sector and that there is a wide range of training needs across all stages of trail development and management, with construction and maintenance topics highlighted as the highest priority. The majority of stakeholders who took part in the survey agreed that there is a strong demand for training that is currently not available. Employers indicated that it is difficult to recruit skilled / competent employees and that Introducing certified training in the sector would be of significant benefit and increase the quality and sustainability of mountain bike trails.

Key themes for the training requirements of the industry included but were not limited to trail sustainability, safety, drainage, working with different soil types and documentation. The needs of volunteers were similar although their needs were mostly focussed on building good trails utilising hand tools rather than machinery.

Dr Tom Campbell, Edinburgh Napier University, said of the research: “Overall, there was broad consensus on the topics to be included for learning and that the overall trail product will be improved through increased training and development of the workforce. This bodes well for the development of courses and helps us understand the needs and aspirations of the industry – both on a professional and voluntary basis.”

RIDER’S TRAIL PREFERENCES & ATTITUDES

To ensure future training programmes and trail guidelines are also tailored to the kind of experience mountain bikers seek nowadays, ENU conducted a second survey targeted at the end consumer, the rider. In total, 4324 survey respondents from 28 different European countries provided data suitable for inclusion in this report. The results of this survey help the consortium partners to understand trail user objectives and preferences. It also gives better insights in the kind of trail characteristics and features mountain bikers like to see on various types of trails. A distinction is also made between rider ability and which trail characteristics they felt would allow them to progress.

Trail riding was the most popular discipline, selected by 76% of respondents. Enduro was the next most popular choice, selected by 63% of respondents. This result also reflected in the type of trails respondents ride most frequently. Most mountain bikers ride either easier or more difficult singletrack trails with connection to nature, descents, optional lines, and surface quality being ranked consistently high among all trail types. The research also showed that the majority of the respondents (90%) would like to progress their riding ability but that a significant proportion of riders (37%) indicated having insufficient access to trails suitable to facilitate their skills progression. Many participants (65%) indicated riding purpose-built trails was important or very important to them”.

When asked about people’s motivation to ride a mountain bike, most mentioned reasons have not changed that much compared to earlier studies. Exercise, connection to nature, play, challenge, and escape (solitude) made it into the top 5. Mountain bikers feel connected to nature and would like to protect nature with many putting environmental concern above trail quality in most areas. However, this is not always reflected in the actions or expectations of respondents where some education may be required to align their intentions with their actions.

Thomas Larsen Schmidt, president of IMBA Europe and consultant at DGI, said of the rider survey: “The results clearly show how broad the spectrum of mountain bike trails and rider’s trail preference has become. We now have a better understanding what kind of trail characteristics different types of riders, based on their experience, need to progress their skills. We also learned a bit more about mountain biker’s nature connectedness and are excited about the next phase of the project where we will start implementing all key findings of both reports into this educational framework.”

NEXT STEPS

Both reports will be used in the next stage of the project where the partners will develop an educational framework which will form the basis of all future DIRTT courses. The first course from the DIRTT project, one of the requirements of the current EU Erasmus + funding, is a level 5 EQF (European Qualification Framework), 900 hour course, consisting of several modules.

The key findings of the MTB trail sector and consumer (rider) survey have recently been shared with the national and European reference groups. These reference groups consist of external stakeholders actively involved in the MTB trail development sector. The reference groups submit input and provide feedback on the preliminary results of the project and will help to implement training programs at the national level at the final stage of the project.

PROJECT PARTNERS

  • Fagskolen Tinius Olsen (NO)
  • Edinburgh Napier University (UK)
  • Agueda Camara Municipal (PT)
  • DGI Outdoor (DK)
  • Scottish Cycling (UK
  • Opplysningskontoret for Terrengsykling (NO)
  • BikePlan AG (CH)
  • IMBA Europe (NL)