There is a very good reason why we humans are drawn to lakes, rivers, oceans and pools. Water is intrinsic to our very existence. Every one of us is drawn to water on our holidays, in our spare time, for travel, for sport, for relaxation and for socialising. Water is not only critical for sustaining life, but increasing amounts of evidence is showing that being in, on or near water is important for our physical and mental wellbeing.
But access to these precious blue spaces across the UK is far from equal.
During the pandemic, tens of thousands of people discovered water activities such as paddling, angling and wild swimming for the first time. British Canoeing membership rose from 38,500 members to over 93,000 in just 18 months. Estimates suggest that numbers of people wild swimming have almost doubled and angling participation has also seen significant growth.
While there were many who were able to explore their local canals, rivers and lakes during lockdowns, the pandemic also exposed widespread inequality regarding access to green and blue spaces close to home. Natural England estimates that one in three people does not have a natural space, like a park, woodland or river, within a 15 minute walk of their home. Inevitably it is those with disabilities, those from lower socio backgrounds and those from the BAME communities were most disproportionately affected. Water reaches into the heart of almost every major city, town and village, however for many, simply getting to the river bank or lake side to paddle, walk, fish, swim or simply sit is a major barrier.
Fundamentally, access to blue spaces should not be dependent on your postcode, having a car, or even the size of your bank balance. That is why the Government needs to seize the opportunity to Level Up access to nature to help enable more people to go outdoors and get active.
The Nature for Everyone Campaign, supported by over 80 different organisations, is calling on the Government to free up funds for green and blue infrastructure projects in order to allow Local Authorities to make the investment needed in our declining parks, canal and river paths and other natural spaces.
The amendments put forward by Rachael Maskell MP to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill (see new clauses 45 and 45 here) would add equal access to nature to the Government’s missions in the Bill – making it a key measure of success for Levelling Up. It would also set legal duties for public bodies to provide more access to nature-rich green and blue spaces (such as parks, woods, canal sides and rivers) for everyone in new and existing communities.
You can your support for the Nature for Everyone campaign by signing the petition here.
Chantelle Grundy is Access and Environment Lead at British Canoeing.
The opinions expressed in this blog are the authors' and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership.
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