Securing a better future for public access to nature

walkers near tree

Today the Environment Bill is due to return for debate in the House of Commons – one of the final opportunities for MPs to scrutinise the Government’s plans for the environment outside of the EU. 

The Bill will require the Government to set legally binding targets and plans for air and water quality, biodiversity and waste. We fully support these ambitions – they will help reverse decades of environmental decline and improve the quality of 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 is despite the wealth of evidence to demonstrate that being active and connected to the natural world delivers a range of benefits, and the sad reality that for many people this access is far from guaranteed. 

In our report last year ‘The grass isn’t greener for everyone: why access to green space matters’ we found that two thirds (65%) of adults said being able to access green space in their local area has always been important to them, with an additional one in five adults (19%) saying that green space in their local area is more important to them now than before the COVID-19 pandemic. However, only 57% of GB adults questioned said that they lived within five minutes’ walk of green space, be it a local park, nearby field or canal path. That figure fell to just 39% for people from a Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic (BAME) background and 46% among all GB adults with a household income of under £15,000 (compared to 63% of those with a household income over £35,000 and 70% over £70,000). 

We want everyone, everywhere, to be able to have easy access to nature.

Today, MPs can ensure this becomes a reality by backing two important amendments. The first, tabled by Caroline Lucas MP, would require the Government to set long-term targets to improve access to nature. The second, tabled by Richard Graham MP, would require the Government to ensure enjoyment of nature is a key feature in its long-term plans for environmental policy. 

Taken together, these two simple but important changes could transform the nation's approach to access provision, enabling long-term strategic thinking and resourcing so people's enjoyment of nature is considered alongside much needed efforts to ensure its recovery.

As we emerge from the Covid-19 outbreak, we must not forget the lessons it has taught us. One of the most compelling is that the simple, free yet invaluable act of accessing nature is a critical part of people's health and wellbeing. Today's debate is an opportunity to take this learning and weave it into future policy so that everyone is able to access nature and benefit from the experience.