Better access to nature makes us kinder to the environment – why we need greener urban spaces

Two friends on a walk

New research published by the European Centre for Environment and Human Health at the University of Exeter has found that people who have access to nature in cities are much more likely to behave in environmentally friendly ways.

The study found that city dwellers – who now make up 80% of the population of England – spend less time in nature and are also less likely to take actions that benefit the environment, such as recycling and buying eco-friendly products. Researchers suggest that in order to encourage environmentally friendly behaviour, decision makers should look to improve and increase access to green spaces in towns and cities. 

The Ramblers want to help to bring nature closer to people by making it easier to reach green spaces on foot. We are calling on national and local decision makers to prioritise the creation of green walking and cycling routes across towns and cities, so that no one lives more than five minutes’ walk from green routes and spaces. 

We know that green routes and spaces are an essential resource for our growing urban populations. They deliver enormous benefits for human health and wellbeing by providing places to encourage physical activity and connect with nature as well as mitigating climate change, improving air quality and supporting nature recovery.

Despite the clear benefits of urban green spaces, they are not always easy to access. Heavily trafficked roads leading to and around green spaces can be off-putting to potential users of the space, particularly children travelling independently. Narrow pavements, lack of signage indicating through routes to popular destinations, walls or fencing that prevent access at convenient points, can disconnect neighbourhoods and individuals and create ‘islands’ of green space.

We want to follow the example set by Ramblers’ volunteers in Greater Manchester, who worked with Transport for Greater Manchester, Manchester City Council, Trees for Cities, Living Streets and others to develop the city's Green Trail Route. The Green Trail is a walking circuit of 14 routes circumnavigating the City of Manchester and connecting many of the City’s parks, woodlands and open spaces with quieter urban streets and with public transport. A team of Ramblers volunteers checked each section of the Trail, suggested improvements, developed maps and route descriptions and organised free led walks to encourage people to use it.

Our Charter for Walking Neighbourhoods sets out five things councils can do to create better walking neighbourhoods, helping to improve access to nature for residents. If you’d like to get involved in making a change where you live, ask your councillor to sign up.

Read the full report on reconnecting with nature key for sustainability.