Our verdict on the UK government’s plan to boost access to nature

5 December 2023 

On Wednesday 29 November, the UK government announced a package of measures, which it says will boost access to nature.  

Overall, it’s encouraging to see positive language from the UK government and the new Environment Secretary on the importance of access to nature, but as is often the case the devil will be in the detail.  

Below we look at some of the key announcements and what they might mean for access: 


A new National Park 

The government’s headline announcement was the launch of a competition to create a new National Park – fulfilling a 2019 Conservative Party manifesto commitment.  

Campaigning by the Ramblers and others led to the creation of the very first National Parks in the 1950s, so for many outdoors lovers this will be an exciting prospect.  

However, a new National Park alone won’t boost access to nature. Alongside the search for a new one, the government must introduce practical measures to improve access to all National Parks. They must be properly funded and given new duties and powers to promote inclusion, health, wellbeing and better public transport links. 


Funding for Protected Landscapes  

The government has committed to taking forward the Access for All programme (£9.3m over the next three years) to improve accessibility of Protected Landscapes (National Parks and National Landscapes, previously known as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty) and National Trails.  

This is welcome, particularly with a focus on removing barriers to access and promoting responsible use. But it is a small amount, spread thinly over a three year period, and the government risks creating a two-tier system when it comes to access, with Protected Landscapes benefitting while more ‘everyday’ spaces, which make up 75% of land, fall behind with a lack of interest from decision makers. 


Woodland access 

The long-awaited Woodland Access Implementation Plan builds on a previous government commitment and sets out how the government aims to improve access to woodland using existing tools and resources.  

The government has said it will establish a baseline of existing woodland access provision, which has the potential to improve our understanding of the barriers to accessing woodland and where more access is needed. There is also welcome recognition of the importance of connectivity, and the need to consider woodland as part of strategic networks, linking up with wider access and green infrastructure such as our treasured path network.  

But, when it comes to woodland, there is a key step missing from these measures that the government must take if it wants to meet its ambition for everyone to be able to access green space within a 15-minute walk of their home: it should expand the freedom to roam to cover woodland.  

This would more than double the coverage of the freedom to roam in England, giving more people the chance to walk in nature close to home, whilst reducing the distance to access land for deprived communities. 


Funding to help children experience the outdoors  

The £2.5m pledge to help more children from disadvantaged backgrounds experience the benefits of the outdoors builds on ‘Generation Green’, a project launched in 2019 to connect children from under-represented groups with nature.  

On the face of it this seems positive and we have seen the positive impacts of connecting young people with nature in our Out There Award scheme in Scotland.  We look forward to seeing more details on how, when and where the funding will be used.  


The final verdict 

The UK government’s announcements contain some encouraging words, but we need a much bolder programme of reform that focuses on reaching those currently missing out on the benefits of time spent in nature.  

As we recently set out in this blog for Wildlife and Countryside Link, we’re calling on the next government to introduce significant reforms that unlock the outdoors for everyone. Specifically, we want political parties to commit to taking three key steps: unleash the potential of our path network, expand the freedom to roam and create more urban green routes – all backed up by a bold strategy and binding targets to ensure everyone lives within a 15-minute walk of green space. 

A group of people walking together down a path between trees

Expand the freedom to roam

Help us to expand the freedom to roam. It is one of the biggest things we can do to increase access to the outdoors for everyone.

Two walkers standing in an embrace with rolling hills behind them

The Ramblers Out There Award

The Out There Award offers outdoors skills and confidence to young adults who otherwise may not feel that walking outdoors was for them. 

A family of mum and dad and two children  in a long grass field look on into the distance

Ramblers research reveals the wellbeing value of our paths

Paths hold the key to significant physical and mental health benefits. But communities that would benefit most from greater access to nature are missing out.