Millions have found comfort from walking in nature since COVID-19 restrictions were introduced in March 2020. The pandemic has changed our relationship with the places where we live, what we want from them and what’s important to us in the future. Our appreciation of local green spaces has grown, and we want them to be wilder, greener and more accessible.
For many, walking provides a much-needed sense of freedom, helping us to stay healthy and boost our wellbeing during difficult times. During lockdown walking was the most popular form of physical activity – and we intend to keep it up. In fact, we plan to walk more in future than we did before the pandemic.
Access to green space makes us healthier and happier
It should be no surprise that, during a time of global anxiety, we reached for nature. Easy access to nature and green spaces makes us healthier and happier. Figures from our recent report, The grass isn’t greener for everyone: why access to green space matters, showed that:
It’s not just quantity: the quality of green space is important too. Places that are rich in wildlife are associated with improved health and wellbeing, and we know that a lack of facilities, poor maintenance and fears about safety can prevent people from accessing local parks. There is strong public support for enhancing local green spaces – by introducing more wilderness and wildlife, better maintaining paths and creating more sign posted walks.
The grass isn’t greener for everyone
Evidence has long shown that poor access to green space is bad for our health – physically and mentally – and that it widens the gap in health outcomes between the richest and poorest in society. But our report shows how COVID-19 brought these inequalities into sharp focus.
The value of being able to go for a walk, connect with nature and de-stress, hit home. Access to green spaces meant having somewhere to take the kids, exercise, hear the birds and feel part of the local community. Only 57% of adults questioned for our report told us they lived within five-minutes’ walk of green space – be it a local park, nearby field or canal path. It’s also true that our most deprived communities are less likely to have green space close to home and more likely to live outside the catchment area of nationally important green space, like our National Parks.
It’s time for change
We believe that everyone, everywhere should have easy access to high quality green spaces close to where they live. That’s why we used this May’s local elections to make this a reality.
6 May 2021 saw the biggest set of elections across England, we’ve had outside of a General Election. Most of our councils elected new representatives and many of our big cities elected metropolitan mayors.
We wanted to make it easier for everyone to enjoy walking in nature. That’s why we called on councils to improve our path network, create new green walking routes, and support people to get walking.
We also launched manifestos for the mayoral elections taking place in London and Greater Manchester. In London, hundreds of our volunteers wrote to candidates we asking to commit to creating six new green walking routes.
These new routes will provide walking links between green spaces, create greener streets and help revitalise the network of existing routes such as the Capital Ring and Thames Path. Find out what the candidates said.
Data from Greater Manchester Combined Authority shows that only 44% of people across Greater Manchester live within a five-minute walk of green space. So our supporters challenged mayoral candidates to commit to creating a new green walking route in each of Greater Manchester’s ten boroughs. Here’s what the candidates had to say.