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.


Anne Suffolk

100% this! Our experience of developing the Telford T50 50 Mile Trail which links all of our 'islands' of local green spaces into one circular walk easy to follow walking route, echoes this. Feedback from hundreds of (new?) walkers along the lines of 'I never knew this place existed', 'I did not know I could walk from my front door to ...', 'I have lived here all my life but never been to/ noticed that before ...' If people do not feel they have permission to walk (need those finger posts pointing to the footpath from metalled roads), if waymarks at the path junctions don't both show the way and validate walking it, people don't feel empowered to walk the paths on their doorstep, let alone follow them into pastures new to them. They also need confidence that they can find their way back again and stop if they get tired, therefore we have found that that is essential to link routes to public transport and mark the bus stops and names of bus routes and destinations on trail guides (catch the No 9 back from here to the town centre, you can take a breather at the cafe/ PH here.) The other thing we have learned is the importance to operate at the very local parish council level: our next project is develop short circular walks which connect with the trail from very parish in the local authority and get them into the parish council newsletters (they go to every house) and onto their local council website. The last thing we learned is not to work in isolation from other community groups and voluntary organisations, other walking groups are not your rivals but potential allies. Local history societies, local wildlife groups are that wider network of people who love and care for our local environment yet sometimes have a negative (even hostile) view of Ramblers. We were happy to publicise and promote their efforts via our own websites and many of them have their own walking trails too but we also (gently) point out when the opportunity arises in conversation that we have a very special (and statutory, via our consultee status on DMMOs, planning etc)) role in caring for our footpath network, without which none of them can go walking anywhere. I have also learned, as a keen hill walker, that urban walks are fascinating and enjoyable in their own right and those small local woods are also full of bird song and have drumming woodpeckers too, sometimes easier to spot than in the large reserves!

Louisa Radice

There's some neglected green space alongside the unnamed pedestrian link between Quinton Road and Merlin Close in Coventry, consisting of a chain of ponds surrounded by trees. Could this be restored?

Linda Blanchette

We have lived in the Essex countryside for thirty years. We have loved walking daily in the beautiful surroundings enjoying the green spaces and wildlife, which has enhanced our wellbeing enormously. Now we face the construction of a 9000 housing development which will surround our lovely cottage and a two way dual carriageway 50m in front of our house, heartbroken!!

Tom Berry

Try and get existing 'green' local organisations to take an interest. They usually have good local contacts. Also, they should already be into sustainability. Important to involve all elements of the local community.