2 May 2023
Some rural communities may be surrounded by beautiful countryside, but this is often privately owned with no public right to access, and sites open to the public may be hard to reach unless by car. This particularly disadvantages lower-income households, with two-thirds unlikely to own a car. To reach natural spaces which are hard to walk to, lower income households have a greater reliance on often infrequent or unreliable public transport, which potentially may not even directly connect to these natural spaces. In contrast the most nature access-rich communities are all rural and communities are frequently either within or in reach of important nature sites which have greater public footpath access.
Deprived communities are doubly disadvantaged: Whether in rural or urban areas the most deprived communities are most likely to miss out on access to nature and to have poor quality and poor quantity of natural space. These communities are more than twice as likely to have a low amount of natural space per person, with 46% of the most deprived local authorities amongst those with the least amount of natural space per person, compared to 21% of the least deprived local authorities. The constituencies with the least natural space per person have under 3m2 per person which is 99% less than the national average of 3llm2 per person and less than 0.03% of the more than 10,000m2 per person in the most nature-access rich areas.
All of the ten local authorities with the least natural space per person are in London and eight are within the bottom 10% of areas for condition of the local environment, including outdoor spaces and forests, as ranked by the Legatum index. The remaining two fall within the bottom 25%. Other urban areas with a high proportion of deprived communities, such as Wolverhampton, Salford, Kingston-Upon-Hull, Coventry, Portsmouth, and Leicester also fall in the worst quarter of local authorities for both amount of natural space per person and quality of natural space and environment.
In its recent Environmental Improvement Plan (EIP) announcement, the Government gave a landmark commitment that all members of the public would be able to access green space or water within a 15-minute walk from their home. This promise was a warmly welcomed key feature of this five-year delivery plan to restore nature and the environment, but there was little detail on how this monumental task would be achieved and funded.
The Government has already committed £39m to Levelling Up Parks Funding to be spent on improving “the equality of access and quality of natural space”, alongside the use of some Levelling Up Funds for projects with green infrastructure elements. However there has been a severe and long-term decline in funding for parks and other natural spaces from over-stretched local authorities in recent years, which would need significant investment to reverse. The State of UK Public Parks 2021 report estimated £690m in parks funding had been lost in the decade up to 2021. The Guardian last year put the figure even higher, estimating that English local authorities are spending almost £330m less a year in real terms on parks and open spaces than they were a decade ago, with the worst cuts in the most deprived authorities.
Nature and health groups are calling for the following 4 key actions to help meet the Government’s 15-minute nature promise:
- Introduce legal duties to increase access to nature, including:- Amending the Levelling-Up and Regeneration Bill to require local planning authorities to provide policies on health inequalities, including tackling inequalities in access to nature, in local development plans - Establishing a legal human right to a healthy natural environment through primary legislation, which could take the form of a new Environmental Rights Bill.
- Provide increased, ring-fenced, funding for green and blue infrastructure, enabling local authorities to restore, maintain and improve existing natural spaces and create new natural spaces in collaboration with the local community
- Target funding and resources towards deprived and minority communities that are most likely to experience lack of access to local nature. With measures within local strategies to improve access for ethnic minority and disabled communities – addressing specific socio-cultural and physical needs
- Embed public access within the Environmental Land Management Schemes (ELMs) supported by an overall uplift in ELM funding to enable farmers and land managers to increase public access
Notes to editors:
1. The data-mapping and analysis behind the report ‘Mapping access to nature in England’ was conducted by Wildland Research Limited. The analysis utilises official green infrastructure and population datasets used by Natural England and mapping tools to calculate the amount of natural space within 15 minutes-walk of households via a publicly accessible route. The research examines the amount of accessible natural space such as parks, woodlands and rivers (excluding sites such as golf courses that are not accessible to all members of the public), the amount of natural space per person, and the percentage of the population within 15 minutes-walk of nature.
This data is fed into a weighting system referred to as the Area Access Index (AAI).This AAI metric factors in the amount of natural space per person and buffers used in the ANGST+ model of “at least 0.5 hectare within 200m”, “at least 2 hectare within 300m”, and “at least 10 ha within 1km”. This buffering creates a weighting system that reduces skewing of the results by access of dense populations to very small areas of natural space within 15 minutes’ walk. A high AAI value indicates good access to natural space in a community. For more detail on the research methodology see pages 10 and 41-43 in the report. (LINK)
2. The Nature For Everyone campaign, coordinated by England’s biggest nature coalition - Wildlife and Countryside Link, is backed by more than 90 organisations, with cross-party parliamentary support and celebrity supporters including Steve Backshall and Deborah Meaden.
Details of the amendment the coalition wish to see in the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, can be found here.
3. Additional Quotes:
James MacColl, Head of Policy, Advocacy and Campaigns at The Ramblers, said: “Being able to walk in nature-filled green spaces, whether in towns, cities or the countryside, makes people happier and healthier. However, as the stark results of this research show, access to nature isn’t equal.
Whilst the Government’s commitment for everyone to live within a 15-minute walk of a green or blue space is a welcome one, it’s unclear how this will be achieved without a legally-binding target or clear plan for delivery. Access to nature must be brought closer to people’s homes, with a network of green routes in all towns and cities, so that everyone is able to access and enjoy green spaces and the outdoors”
Carrie Hume, Head of Health Equals, said: “Not enough attention is paid to how our health is shaped by our interactions with the world around us. People with greater access to nature and green spaces are more likely to report better health but not everyone has equal access to them. Politicians must take action to improve our opportunities for good health.”
4. https://li.com/reports/uk-prosperity-index-2021/ (p62 for environment ranking)
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