Between 250 and 350 walkers from the South East and London will set off on walks in the Seven Sisters Country Park, near Eastbourne, today (October 12) to help celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Walking the Way to Health Initiative (WHI).

There will be groups from ethnic minorities, inner cities, disabled ramblers, and school age children, as well as regular and elderly walkers.

Across the country more than 350 walking for health schemes have now been established and more than a million people have taken advantage of this scheme to walk more and stay healthy. In the South East there are now well over 100 WHI schemes. The success of these schemes demonstrates the links between enjoying open spaces and physical health.

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WHI was launched in September 2000 and is a joint venture between the Countryside Agency and the British Heart Foundation. Initially conceived as a five-year project, the success and popularity of the WHI programme has led the Countryside Agency to offer additional funding to continue to provide our WHI services to existing schemes and to explore further funding at both a national and local level.

Eighty per cent of the funding was allocated to areas of disadvantage. Grants range from just a few hundred pounds to support a group of local volunteers, to more than 100,000 to promote and develop walking for health across a whole city.

Duncan Mackay, Countryside Agency regional director for the South East, says: "The results of WHI are a credit to the individuals and community groups who have made walking a regular part of a new healthier way of life. This is a fantastic way to get out, get healthy and enjoy being outdoors. I know how difficult it can be to fit in the time to exercise, but walking is an easy and effective way of keeping active and WHI offers support the chance to meet new people, in addition to the health benefits"

Today's event at the Seven Sisters Country Park, East Sussex has two main aims:

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'¢ to celebrate five years of the Walking for Health Initiative (WHI) and its success in boosting people's health and enjoyment of walking, and

'¢ to promote Natural England and access to the countryside for physical recreation.

The event is also intended to encourage Primary Care Trusts and Local Authorities to take a more active role in developing the many WHI schemes there now are in England. It will also note that Sport England is now very supportive. It sees the WHI scheme as complementing its 'Everyday Sport' campaign.