Our chance to improve access to nature

Walking on canal path

Updated 27 January 2021

Ahead of the Environment Bill returning to Parliament this week, the Ramblers have joined up with a number of organisations to call on the Government to ensure better access to nature for everyone. 

Sustrans, Institute of Health Equity, Cycling UK, YHA, the Campaign for National Parks and others have joined the Ramblers to urge the Government to ensure that the Environment Bill includes provisions that require the setting of long-term, legally binding targets and plans to improve people’s access to nature. 

Whether it’s in a local park or a National Park, walking in green space makes us healthier and happier. Millions of us have found comfort in walking and nature since COVID-19 restrictions were introduced - but not everybody is lucky enough to live close to a green space. Our report last year, ‘The grass isn’t greener for everyone: why access to green space matters’, showed that people on low incomes and those from a BAME background are less likely to have access to their own garden or live within a five-minute walk from green space. 

The Environment Bill, which will be debated by MPs on Tuesday, 26th January, requires the Government to set legally binding long-term targets and plans for air and water quality, biodiversity and waste. These provisions will play an important role in reversing decades of environmental decline and protecting and improving 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. As a result, the Ramblers are supporting two amendments to the Bill which offer an opportunity to improve people’s access to green space. 

  • Amendment 21 would require the Government to set legally-binding, long-term targets to increase public access to, and enjoyment of the natural environment;
  • Amendment 28 means the Government will have to include steps to improve people’s enjoyment of nature in its Environmental Improvement Plans. 

The joint statement on access to nature has been signed by The Ramblers, British Canoeing, British Cycling, British Horse Society, British Mountaineering Council, CPRE The countryside charity, Cycling UK, Disabled Ramblers, National Federation of Bridleway Associations, Open Spaces Society,  Sustrans, Byways and Bridleways Trust, Campaign for National Parks, Institute of Health Equity, The Trails Trust and YHA.  

Update – 27 January 2021

MPs debated the Bill on 26 January and we were pleased to hear several express their support for amendments 21 and 28. Richard Graham MP (Con, Gloucester) highlighted the ways in which the pandemic had exposed not just the importance of access to nature, but the inequalities experienced by so many. Barbara Keeley MP (Lab, Worsley and Eccles South) spoke of the need to protect and expand green spaces in urban areas while enabling more people to enjoy the countryside. Caroline Lucas MP (Green, Brighton Pavilion) rightly explained the need to require Government to improve access provision.

Despite these contributions, and the support of other MPs, no changes were made to the Bill. We will look to opportunities ahead when the Bill moves to the House of Lords and will continue to champion the changes needed to ensure everyone can access the natural environment.