Improved and equal access to nature for all in the United Kingdom
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Ella Gregory, Mental Health Lead, UK Youth for Nature
I am calling on the governments of the UK to improve access to nature for everybody in the United Kingdom and ensure that all can access high-quality, nature-rich green/blue spaces near where they live.
Nature and green/blue spaces have been proven to have incredible benefits for people's physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. From using nature for exercise, meeting with friends or simply enjoying the wildlife and biodiversity surrounding us, these spaces are vital to wellbeing.
In my work with UK Youth For Nature, looking at the impact nature can have on us, the incredible benefits of spending time in green spaces have been highlighted time and time again. Green and blue spaces are healing places of refuge, and for those who frequent them, their benefits are immense.
Access to nature should be fair and equitable for all in our society, but we currently have a long way to go before this becomes a reality. It was found that 2.5 million people must walk greater than 10 minutes to access their nearest green space. Is this fair when we know the profound benefits that even a mere tree can have on one's daily life?
The lack of access to nature does not affect everyone equally - it is more strongly associated with those in society who are already marginalised in other ways, including (but not limited to) people from Black, Asian, Indigenous and other ethnic communities, those with disabilities, lower incomes, and younger people.
Additionally, amidst the pandemic, the use of parks and green spaces rose to 25% (May 2020 compared to May 2018), emphasising the need for urgent investment in greening neighbourhoods, towns and cities and to refund cuts to parks and other public green spaces. My relationship with nature flourished over Lockdown and is an essential support for my wellbeing. UK Youth For Nature took time to understand the impact natural spaces had on people, specifically during the lockdown, getting responses such as it is 'peaceful', 'healing' and walks being a treasured part of the daily routine.
Access to nature is vital to increasing current and future generations’ wellbeing. Still, many do not have fair access allowing them to receive the clear benefits associated with access to nature on our physical, mental, emotional and community health.
Equal access to nature is not just an issue that concerns urban residents. Much of the UK’s green space is privately-owned land, and the uncertainty around rights-of-way means that people often feel worried about accessing these spaces. Therefore, more must be done to ensure people can, and feel comfortable to, access nature nearby.
When we asked people how they would feel without access to nature, they said they would feel like 'the air was always dirty', as if they 'couldn't breathe', 'trapped', 'anxious and powerless', 'bleak and claustrophobic', 'distressed', 'disconnected'. They felt that it would negatively affect their mental health and wellbeing, and for some, their sense of self.
Lockdown has highlighted a vital need to ensure that people across our nation have greater access to high-quality, nature-rich green and blue spaces near where they live. As we begin to leave lockdown and recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and transition into a post-Brexit nation, we have an unprecedented opportunity to create a relationship between people and nature that works for all.
I would welcome the opportunity to discuss specific asks and demands with each of the governments of the UK.
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