UK wildlife campaigners call for legal right for everyone to have access to nature

A petition has been launched today, calling for a ‘legal right to nature’ to be a key component of the Government’s Levelling Up reforms

Charlie Duffield
Monday 21 February 2022 15:10 GMT
<p>One in three people in England cannot access nature near their home</p>

One in three people in England cannot access nature near their home

A new ‘Nature for Everyone’ campaign has been launched, calling for the legal right to access nature for all.

More than 60 nature, planning, health and equality organisations are on board, and want the government to ensure that equal access to thriving natural spaces is a key component of it’s levelling up reforms.

Despite the comprehensive evidence that accessible, nature-rich spaces boost our physical and mental wellbeing, and reduce mortality, one in three people in England cannot access nature near their home.

Today the coalition behind the campaign, which includes The Wildlife Trusts, Greenpeace and the Institute for Public Policy Research, has launched a petition.

It says: “The pandemic proved how important spending time in nature is to people’s health and wellbeing. But it also highlighted the inequalities in access to thriving natural spaces.

“One in three people in England do not have nature near their home, with little or no greenspace at all in some of the most disadvantaged areas.”

Ethnic minorities are also twice as likely to live in a neighbourhood without nature-rich spaces. At the same time, wildlife is declining across the UK, with the UK in the worst 10 per cent of countries worldwide for nature loss.

The group has three demands; to make equal access to nature a core test of levelling up, to make it a legal requirement for developers and public bodies to provide access to nature-rich local spaces for everyone, and to provide funding for locally-accessible nature-rich spaces.

In the decade before the pandemic, visits to urban parks and other green spaces nearly doubled, from 1.2 billion in 2009-10, to 2.1 billion in 2018-19.

New research from Wildlife and Countryside Link on access to nature reveals a huge public demand for more and better natural spaces.

80 per cent of the British public support a legal right to local nature, and 85 per cent say it should be a priority for all new housing developments to include accessible natural spaces.

Dr Richard Benwell, CEO of Wildlife and Countryside Link, said: “The Government says levelling up means pride of place and equal opportunity. But for many people, this ends the moment they step out of their door. So many lives are worsened or shortened by disconnection from nature. So many could be improved by the chance to get active, get together and get in touch with nature. Unless levelling up includes a legal right to healthy local natural spaces, it will surely fail. This is the Government’s chance to show that the benefits of nature are truly everyone’s to enjoy.”

Mark Rowland, CEO Mental Health Foundation, added: “Our research and that of others has demonstrated that connection to nature is fundamental to good mental health. We are facing a double threat from significant biodiversity loss in the UK and enduring inequality in access, which is leaving millions of people with little opportunity to benefit from nature. It is not just the frequency of contact with nature that matters. The quality and abundance of nature is also vital in terms of the mental health benefits and that is why levelling up must mean delivering on nature’s renewal and a clear pathway to equitable access to nature across the UK.”

TV stars including Deborah Meaden from Dragons’ Den, and the Springwatch presenter Gillian Burke have also backed the bid.

Meaden said: “It’s increasingly clear that there are huge inequalities in the amount of green spaces and access to nature that people can enjoy close to home. I’ve always felt passionately that having nature close to the places where people live, work and visit is critical for our mental and physical health.

“Despite 80 per cent of Brits wanting a ‘legal right to local nature’, it is not yet set out in law, which means that building developments do not have to take this into account. This needs to change.”

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