Rishi Sunak, why is access to the outdoors not available to all?

Our head of policy, advocacy and campaigns, James MacColl, outlines how the new Prime Minister can improve access to nature for all.

On Tuesday 25th October, the UK got a new Prime Minister: Rishi Sunak.  

It has only been 52 days since the last Prime Minister took office. In that time, we have seen our connection to the outdoors come under threat, as part of an attack on nature from the government.  

We’ve been fighting against changes to Environmental Land Management (ELM), a relaxation of planning laws, the introduction of new ‘investment zones’, and a ‘bonfire’ of environmental protections.  

It is not too late to change direction. Rishi Sunak has the opportunity to stand up for nature and improve access to the outdoors for all.  

He must recognise how vital access to the outdoors is to everyone’s health and wellbeing. And why it’s so important it’s available to everyone, no matter where they live or their walk of life.  

Access to nature is unequal

In 2020, just 57% of survey respondents across Great Britain told us they lived within five minutes of green space.  This fell to just 39% for people from minority ethnic backgrounds. 

There is also a wide gap between the richest and poorest in society. Our report showed just 46% of respondents on the lowest income had easy access to green space, compared with over 70% of those with the highest income levels.

So how can the government bring the benefits of the outdoors to everyone? We’ve outlined a range of actions the UK government can take that could have a big impact.

We’re calling on Rishi Sunak's government to work up a plan for improving access to nature, which includes the following policies, and allocates clear responsibility for delivering them.

The Ramblers also continues to influence the governments in Scotland and Wales to improve the policies within their respective responsibilities. For example, in Scotland and Wales, decisions about most of the policy topics that the Ramblers work on, such as environment, access, sport, agriculture, national parks, transport and health are devolved. 

Put access to nature at the heart of government legislation

The UK Government is developing new land management policies in England that will shape our access to nature for generations. In recent weeks, these policies have come under threat. The new Prime Minister must commit to putting access to nature at the heart of these reforms.  

This includes:

  • Environmental Land Management: This is a new system of payments that support farmers and landowners. Public access interventions need to be included in this new system so farmers, the custodians of our rural landscapes, have the support they need to create opportunities for people to enjoy the outdoors.
  • Environment Act 2021: Sunak needs to use the powers of the Environment Act to set legally-binding targets to improve people's enjoyment of the natural environment. 
  • Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill: Access to nature must be part of this agenda. It is currently being debated in Parliament and we are working to influence the bill. Help us to influence the bill by signing our petition.  

Expand the freedom to roam

In 2000, following years of campaigning by the Ramblers and others, the government gave the public the freedom to roam across three million acres of land in England and Wales. It gives us all the right to wander in open countryside, from mountain scrambles to local rambles.   

The freedom to roam gives everyone the chance to get out walking, connect with nature and explore the beautiful outdoors. It is not all about remote mountains or a distant wilderness. It’s about places right on your doorstep where you’re not allowed to walk.  

Expanding the freedom to roam is vital for making the outdoors more equal. It’s one of the biggest and most impactful things that can be done to increase access to nature. 

The new Prime Minister must make it a priority to expand the freedom to roam to cover woodland, watersides and more grassland. 

Create green routes in towns and cities

A network of high quality, easy to follow routes that link up green spaces in towns and cities would make it easier for everyone to walk in nature. These routes would offer residents, commuters, and visitors a safe and enjoyable way of experiencing the urban outdoors.

We’ve already made great strides in London. Our staff and volunteers have been working with Transport for London and the city’s Walking and Cycling Commissioner to develop a ‘leisure walking strategy’. This would improve existing green routes and introduce new ones that we have proposed. The next step is to build on this progress in Manchester and the West Midlands. 

The new Prime Minister can help by providing funding and guidance for local authorities to develop green routes across England, where UK government responsibility lies. 

Campaign with us

The new Prime Minister and the UK government have a lot to contend with in the coming months. But health, wellbeing and a chance to recharge in nature is going to be more important than ever, and these actions are cost effective ways of making them a priority. 

As a first step, Rishi Sunak must put a stop to the attack on nature and improve access to the outdoors for all. Support us by writing to your MP. Help make it clear that protecting nature, and people’s access to it, is vital. Write to your MP today.