Millions have enjoyed walking during lockdown but a new report reveals the grass isn’t greener for everyone.
Walking charity the Ramblers found that interest in taking a stroll in nature has soared during the pandemic.
But those in our most deprived communities are less likely to live near green spaces and parks.
Their study ‘The grass isn’t greener for everyone: Why access to green space matters’ discovered people from BAME (Black, Asian, Minority, Ethnic) backgrounds and those on low incomes are less likely to have good access to verdant places.
Research found people from BAME backgrounds are less likely to have good access to green spaces.
To address this gap, the Ramblers is calling on the Government to set national targets for access to nature in the Environment Bill.
It wants them to guarantee that no one lives more than five minutes’ walk from a green space.
Gemma Cantelo, head of policy and advocacy for the Ramblers said: “Walking in nature-filled green spaces makes us happier and healthier and during lockdown our local green spaces gave us places to walk, connect with nature, and destress.
The restrictions of lockdown have made us appreciate our green spaces more than ever, and many of us plan to continue walking more in the future, for our health and wellbeing as well as to get from A to B; but not everyone experienced lockdown equally.
“We need to build on this new momentum and learn the lessons highlighted by the pandemic – people want to visit green spaces on their doorstep where they can be active and enjoy the benefits of connecting with nature.
Our towns and cities should be designed to make this a reality, with nature-filled green spaces linked by safe, easy-to-follow walking routes. The Environment Bill couldn’t be more timely and the government needs to take this unique opportunity to put access to nature at the heart of it.”
The Ramblers’ report follows on from research by the Office for National Statistics in May which highlighted that one in eight British households has no garden. And Black people in England are nearly four times as likely as White people to have no outdoor space at home.
The Ramblers and YouGov poll sampled 2,012 GB adults about where they live, their attitude to walking and nature, and whether this had changed due to COVID-19.
It found that green spaces are important to almost everyone. The top reason at 78 per cent was they are a good place to walk.
But only 57 per cent of GB adults said they lived within five minutes’ walk of green space, be it a local park, nearby field or canal path. That figure fell to just 39 per cent for people from a BAME background and 46 per cent among all GB adults with a household income of under £15,000.
Those with a household income over £35,000 and over £70,000 polled 63 per cent and 70 per cent, respectively.
Dr Anjana Khatwa, earth scientist and Ramblers member, has experienced both sides of the nature gap.
She said: “I grew up in the heart of Slough and as a child my experience of nature was limited to the local park and the school playing field. Today I live in rural Dorset and walking in the landscape is an essential part of my life; it is critical to my health and wellbeing.
“Having worked in the natural heritage sector for over 20 years, I am deeply aware of the inequity of access to natural spaces for Black and Asian communities and those living in deprivation.
"The heavy visitation to rural and coastal spaces once lockdown was lifted, demonstrated to me that our underserved communities crave to be in spaces rich with natural capital.
"Imagine a world where you could leave your city centre flat and within five minutes be walking through a field of wildflowers buzzing with wildlife.
"This is what we are asking the Government to include in the Environment Bill. To recognise that every person, no matter where they live, has a human right to access green spaces that allows them to connect with nature and their landscape.”
The Ramblers believe nature is important to our health and quality of life.
They also point to the economic benefit, as more than £2 billion every year could be saved in health costs alone if everyone had good access to green space – a result of increased physical activity.
One of the case studies in the report is Terry Vincent who loves to walk surrounded by nature.
She said: “We live in a flat in a built-up area, and we’ve no private garden, but it’s still lovely because we have access to two nature reserves within a few minutes’ walk – proximity is everything when you don’t drive and there’s minimal public transport.
“It’s when I’m outdoors and away from machine noises that I feel my connection to the whole planet most.”
The charity feels quick access to such places should be backed by legally binding targets, similar to those being proposed around biodiversity, air and water quality and waste reduction.
Ramblers on a walk.
It believes the Environment Bill is the most important piece of green legislation for a generation and it doesn’t want this opportunity to be missed.
The report concludes: “We’re calling on the government to learn the lessons of lockdown and put people’s access to nature at the heart of the Environment Bill.”
MAIN IMAGE CREDIT: People value being able to access nature and green space more than ever following the Covid-19 outbreak. Picture: SWNS via The Ramblers.