Why nobody should live more than five minutes' walk from green space

Why nobody should live more than five minutes' walk from green space

Walking in nature

The Environment Bill is now due to come back before Parliament. We have written previously about why this piece of legislation is so important and why we’d like to see it amended to include a requirement for national targets for access to nature. In this blog we explain why access to green space is so important, and why nobody should live more than five minutes' walk from green space.  

Access to green space makes us healthier and happier

Being in nature everyday improves our health, both in terms of the direct benefits and the reduction of potential harm (from air pollution, noise and reducing the urban heat island effect, for example).

Our report, ‘The grass isn’t greener for everyone: why access to green space matters’,  found that seven out of ten adults (70%) report that green spaces are a good place to relax, that they help with their mental wellbeing (68%) and are useful for exercise and improving physical health (68%). Spending just two hours in nature each week boosts our health and happiness too.

Our definition of green space was broader than just public parks – we asked people to think about any green space where they could go for a walk, whether nearby fields or a canal path. It’s vital that everyone should be able to enjoy walking in nature, in safety, without having to make any special effort or journey to do so. Public Health England highlight that distance to green space is a real barrier to its use, pointing to government figures that two-thirds of visits are within 2 miles of home. Evidence also suggests that most parents are unwilling to allow their children to be unaccompanied more than 300m from home.

When we read how vital it is for people to have access to nature-filled green spaces – and how distance can play a big part in how often people use them – it is important to consider how unequal that access is right now. Currently 2.7 million people across Great Britain live more than a 10-minute walk away from a public park. Furthermore, according to the Office of National Statistics, one in eight households (12%) has no access to a private garden – this rises to one in five in London. Our research shows this disproportionately affects people who live in lower income areas and people from black, Asian and other minority ethnic backgrounds, who have the poorest access to green space. It’s not just access to local green space either: deprived communities also have poorer access to flagship green spaces, like our National Parks

What sort of target would we like to see? And how can we get it?

We are not saying that this target should be included in the Environment Bill. This particular type of legislation is not the right place for this level of detail; instead the Bill should require legally binding targets to be set for public access to nature. This is the first step to improving access to nature-filled green spaces for everyone.

Thinking about the environment we would eventually like to see across the country helps bring to life the sort of outcomes that could be realised if the government wants to level up opportunities in all areas of life. This is particularly important right now following the Covid-19 outbreak which has brought into even sharper focus just how important it is for everyone to be able to access the outdoors.

Given what we know about barriers to walking and unequal access to nature in Great Britain, we believe that nobody should live more than a five minutes’ walk from green space. We don’t shy away from the fact this is an ambitious ask, which is why we can’t do it alone.  We need your help in persuading the government that a requirement for national targets for access to nature should be included in the Environment Bill.

Write to your MP now to join our campaign.