The grass isn't greener for everyone

Being able to walk to in nature-filled green spaces close to where we live is more important to us than ever following the COVID-19 lockdown. But the pandemic has also highlighted the sharp disparity between those who have easy access to green space, and those who don’t according to a new Ramblers’ report, The grass isn’t greener for everyone: Why access to green space matters, published today.

While millions of us have found comfort in walking and nature during the pandemic, it’s not the same story for everyone. With one in eight households having no access to a private or shared garden, many people felt the lack of a park or nearby green space keenly during the restrictions of lockdown. We are calling on the government to introduce legally binding targets to guarantee everyone, everywhere can easily walk in nature-filled green spaces, wherever they live.

Green space is important to almost everyone

We did some research with YouGov, which found that green spaces are important to almost everyone, with the top reason being that they are a good place to walk (78%). In fact, lots of us intend to walk more than they did before, when lockdown restrictions have ended.

Two thirds (65%) of adults reported that being able to access green space in their local area had always been important to them, with an additional one in five adults (19%) saying that green space in their local area was more important to them now than before the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Access to nature isn’t equal

Only 57% of 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% for those 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).

Gemma Cantelo, Ramblers head of policy and advocacy said:

“Walking in nature-filled green spaces makes us happier and healthier and during lockdown our local green spaces gave us places to walk, connect with nature, and destress. The restrictions of lockdown have made us appreciate our green spaces more than ever, and many of us plan to continue walking more in the future, for our health and wellbeing as well as to get from A to B; but not everyone experienced lockdown equally.

“We need to build on this new momentum and learn the lessons highlighted by the pandemic – people want to visit green spaces on their doorstep where they can be active and enjoy the benefits of connecting with nature. Our towns and cities should be designed to make this a reality, with nature-filled green spaces linked by safe, easy-to-follow walking routes. The Environment Bill couldn’t be more timely and the government needs to take this unique opportunity to put access to nature at the heart of it.”

Access to nature is so important to our health and quality of life that ultimately, we believe that no one should live more than a five-minute walk from green space. We are calling for the Environment Bill to include a requirement for long-term binding targets for access to nature, to ensure everyone can enjoy the benefits of living in green and nature-filled towns and cities – similar to those being proposed around biodiversity, air and water quality and waste reduction.

Dr Anjana Khatwa, Earth Scientist and Ramblers member, said: 

“I grew up in the heart of Slough and as a child my experience of nature was limited to the local park and the school playing field. Today I live in rural Dorset and walking in the landscape is an essential part of my life; it is critical to my health and wellbeing. 

Having worked in the natural heritage sector for over 20 years, I am deeply aware of the inequity of access to natural spaces for Black and Asian communities and those living in deprivation. The heavy visitation to rural and coastal spaces once lockdown was lifted, demonstrated to me that our undeserved communities crave to be in spaces rich with natural capital. Imagine a world where you could leave your city centre flat and within five minutes be walking through a field of wildflowers buzzing with wildlife. This is what we are asking the Government to include in the Environment Bill. To recognise that every person, no matter where they live, has a human right to access green spaces that allows them to connect with nature and their landscape.

The places we live should be greener

Our research also found that we think our local areas should be greener, and that more nature and green space would improve our quality of life:

  • Only just over a third of respondents (35%) described the streets where they live as green with lots of trees and plants
  • Three out of five adults (61%) said their quality of life would be improved if there was more nature in their local area (compared to just 28% who said more pubs or entertainment venues in their local area would improve their quality of life)
  • Over half (54%) of adults said more green spaces near where they lived would make their quality of life better
  • 62% said better maintained green spaces would improve their quality of life
  • 60% thought better walking routes near where they live would improve their quality of life.

Get involved - help bring the benefits of walking in nature to more people

The Environment Bill gives us an opportunity to ensure that we can all can walk in nature-filled green spaces. We are encouraging our supporters to ask their MP to support our call for the Bill to include a requirement for a national target that guarantees nobody lives more than a five minute walk from green space.