27 August 2020 by Gemma Cantelo
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our relationship with nature and the outdoors. Gemma Cantelo, the Ramblers’ head of policy and advocacy, reflects on what we’ve learnt.
As government restrictions stopped us from travelling further afield, we found new ways to connect with nature. At the start of lockdown, visits to the Wildlife Trusts’ webcams shot up by 2000%. As we began to feel more comfortable heading outside, visits to our local green spaces like parks also rose.
Like many, I saw my own neighbourhood in a new light. I watched the trees from the window of my east London flat bud, flower and turn to green. On my daily walk, I noticed more – birdsong, kerbside plants, cared-for gardens. My local park felt like a lifeline, connecting me not only to nature, but also to my local community – and, sometimes, after a full day on my laptop, to ‘real-life’.
I’m certainly not alone. Millions of us have found comfort in walking and nature over the past few months. Our appreciation of local green spaces has grown and more of us than ever are hitting weekly targets for physical activity. The most popular form of exercise during lockdown? Walking, of course!
But, it’s far from an even picture. It takes me three minutes to walk to my nearest park. In 20 minutes, I can be in a nature reserve. If I fancy going down to the woods today, it’s a 30-minute stroll. I feel lucky. This is not the case for many. In fact, 2.7 million of people across Great Britain live more than a 10-minute walk from a park. That matters.
The evidence was clear long before COVID-19 hit us: poor access to green space is bad for our health, physically and mentally. The closer we live to green space, the more likely we are to be physically active and have lower levels of a whole range of health issues, including cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, anxiety and depression. It’s no wonder that nine out of ten of us say spending time in nature makes us happy!
The data may have already been clear, but the pandemic and lockdown brought the personal cost into stark relief. The value of being able to go for a walk, connect with nature and de-stress hit home. So did the pain of not being able to. Green space means having somewhere to take the kids, stay healthy, hear the birds and feel part of the local community. We all deserve that.
As we emerge from this phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ramblers will be calling on government to take action. We believe that everyone, everywhere should be able to access green space within five-minute walk of home. If we’re to make that happen, the Environment Bill is a good place to start. The Bill, touted by government as the most important piece of environmental legislation for a generation, will be back in the House of Commons this autumn. We’ll be calling on government to use the Bill to introduce long-term, legally-binding targets that guarantee people’s access to nature and green space. In September, we’ll be launching a new campaign to help make this happen – and we’d love Ramblers’ members to help us. Stay tuned!
In mid-September, the Ramblers will launch a new report making the case for good access to green space and the findings a new survey into how COVID-19 has changed our attitude to walking and green space. The report will launch a new campaign calling on government to improve people’s access to nature and green space.