German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN)


Nature Conservation and Sport/Leisure

Climbing in Saxon Switzerland (© Kerstin Lehmann)
The photo schows Climbing in Saxon Switzerland.

Outdoor sports are highly popular. Recent years have seen an increasing trend towards ‘gentle’ outdoor sports such as Nordic walking, hiking and cycling. This partly has to do with the growing popularity of experiencing nature and partly reflects enhanced health consciousness in the population. As well as having high value in terms of personal experience of nature, recreation and health, outdoor sports have also become a major social and economic factor.

The natural environment offers a multitude of opportunities for sports and leisure activities. The type of sport practised depends on geographical features and available infrastructure. Many sports such as sailing and paragliding depend on the presence of natural and near-natural landscape features. Ecosystems that are of high conservation value and in many cases great sensitivity are often attractive for the exercise of outdoor leisure activities. This can impact flora and fauna together with their habitats, fueling interest conflicts between nature conservation and sports. The severity of the impacts depends on a number of factors, such as the type of sport, the intensity of the activity and the sensitivity of the ecosystems. 

It is essential that the types of sports practised accord with local conditions. If a sport cannot be practised for conservation reasons, it may have to be redirected to less sensitive areas that are more suitable but still attractive. A range of strategies and measures such as graded protection and access schemes for countryside areas help minimise conflicts and secure opportunities for access in the long term.

Fair balance of interests

Hang glider just before the start (© Joachim Jenrich)
The picture shows a hang glider just before the start.

Developing well thought-out land use and management strategies calls for close and trusting collaboration between nature conservation practitioners and the sporting community. This is needed both before decisions are made and subsequently in managing their implementation. Greater consultation and cooperation – directed at achieving a fair balance of interests – enhances mutual acceptance and promotes partnership between nature conservation and sporting lobbies.

There are various ways of making both sides more aware of problem areas, injecting objectivity into conflicts and integrating nature conservation and environment protection objectives into sporting activities. These include the creation of information-based spatio-temporal management systems (such as  NaturSportInfo), certification and quality assurance instruments (such as EMAS and quality seals), awareness-raising training material (e.g. for  recreational aviation), and stakeholder networking between conservation and sports (such as in  NBS dialogue forums).

Sports associations today are more committed to environmental responsibility.  BfN works with outdoor sports associations to develop more nature-friendly ways of engaging in sporting activities.

Last Change: 10/02/2021