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How can the Government 'level up' access to nature for everyone?

As the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill nears its final stages, Rebecca Pullinger from the Woodland Trust and Chair of the Link Land Use Planning Group explores what it means to ‘level up’ nature.

June 2023

It has been over a year since the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill was first introduced to the Commons and ‘Levelling Up’ is still ill defined.

It is well established that there are stark inequalities in people’s access to nature. Wildlife and Countryside Link research found ethnic minorities are twice as likely to live in nature-poor neighbourhoods. In one in nine neighbourhoods 90%-100% of the population have no access to nature within 15 minutes’ walk.

And access to nature isn’t just a nice to have. In a YouGov survey commissioned by the Woodland Trust, one in three young people in Britain are scared (33%), sad (34%) or pessimistic (34%) about climate change, with 28% feeling “overwhelmed”, according to a YouGov poll. At the same time 86% of people surveyed felt that being outdoors and among nature had a positive effect on their mental health.

Levelling up opportunities to experience nature so everyone has access to green or blue space - is essential for our physical and mental health and wellbeing.

The wealth of data is compelling and stories from the recent past show how access to nature is an issue that unites communities. The felling of trees in places like Plymouth and Wellingborough show that when existing local trees are threatened or lost, communities come together to protect them and make clear that green spaces are loved and treasured by local people.

And politicians should take heed: local election results in Plymouth indicate that this is an issue that can make or break an election campaign. Access to nature for health and wellbeing is a top tier issue.

This all means it is imperative to enshrine a duty for councils to consider health and wellbeing in planning decisions within the Levelling Up Bill. This would embed the good practice that many local councils are demonstrating and get us on the right track towards becoming a country where everyone, no matter who you are or where you live can reap the benefits nature has to offer.

Join us in calling for #NatureforEveryone and sign our petition here.

Rebecca Pullinger is Lead Policy Advocate for Planning at the Woodland Trust. 

Follow @WoodlandTrust and @beckyjpullinger on Twitter.

The opinions expressed in this blog are the authors' and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership.