Towards a brighter future for access to nature

couple walking path

On 26 January, the Environment Bill returned to the House of Commons for further debate by MPs. We want to ensure that this crucial piece of legislation means that everyone can enjoy and benefit from walking in nature close to home.

Whether it’s in a local park or a National Park, walking in green space makes us healthier and happier. Millions of us have found comfort in walking and nature since Covid-19 restrictions were introduced – but not everybody is lucky enough to live close to a green space. Our report last year, ‘The grass isn’t greener for everyone: why access to green space matters’, showed that people on low incomes and those from a BAME background are less likely to have access to their own garden or live within a five-minute walk from green space.

The Environment Bill is a rare opportunity to address this inequality in access. It will require the Government to set legally binding long-term targets and plans for air and water quality, biodiversity and waste. We fully support these provisions – they will play an important part in reversing decades of environmental decline and protecting and improving the places we love to walk. 

But the Bill falls short in one crucial area – it doesn’t compel the Government to do anything to improve people’s access to and enjoyment of nature. This shortcoming is a missed opportunity to better connect people to the outdoors, and our concerns are shared by MPs from different parties. Two amendments to the Bill were debated on the 26 January which were designed to secure a brighter future for access: 

  •    Amendment 21 would require the Government to set legally-binding long-term targets to improve public access to, and enjoyment of, the natural environment.
  •    Amendment 28 would require the Government to include steps to improve people’s enjoyment of nature in its Environmental Improvement Plans.

While these amendments enjoyed the support of many MPs, unfortunately a lack of Government support meant the Bill remained unchanged at the end of the debate. But this is not the end of our efforts to improve the Bill. 

Although the Government has announced a further delay to the progression of the Bill in Parliament, we hope that they will reflect on the support for these amendments and use the pause as an opportunity to bolster provisions so that everyone is able to access green space.

We will also be working hard in the coming months to shape the debate ahead of Bill’s House of Lords stages, building on the growing awareness of just how important it is for everyone to have easy access to nature.