New research has found that poorer people in England are far less likely to have access to the country’s national parks and are missing out on the benefits of time spent in nature.
A study commissioned by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), which will be submitted to a government review into the management of national assets, shows that people from socially deprived areas find themselves increasingly estranged from national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONB).
According to the research, around half of the country’s most deprived areas are more than 15 miles by road from any of England’s 10 national parks and 46 AONBs, too far for them to be considered accessible. Those beyond the accessible catchment of these beauty spots include the majority of people in many major urban centres such as Liverpool, Chester, Leicester, Cambridge, Northampton and Peterborough.
Visitors to national parks overwhelmingly make use of private transport to reach them – nine in 10 journeys to national parks are made by car – but significantly, a majority of areas where less than half of all households own a car also fall outside an accessible distance from these parks.
This means that a majority of those people living furthest from England’s 10 national parks are reliant on public transport to reach these areas; however, affordable and frequent rail travel is not always available and normally requires some onward travel, such as a local bus service, many of which have suffered severe cutbacks due to austerity.
Commenting on the study, Emma Marrington said: “When the most beautiful parts of England’s countryside were given national park status, or designated as AONBs, they were done so as a public good – so that everyone could enjoy the benefits that access to them can bring.
“But a huge amount of people are currently missing out. Regular interaction with the natural world – fresh air, exercise, escaping the stresses and strains of urban living, just being in the great outdoors – is inextricably linked to increased levels of health and happiness.”
The CPRE has called for increased resources for outreach and engagement programmes to provide equal opportunities for all to access national parks and AONBs. The organisation awaits the publication of the government’s landscape review of England’s national parks and AONBs, led by journalist and writer Julian Glover. It is hoped that the final report and recommendations from the review, due later this year, will provide a strategy for enabling greater access to these landscapes, allowing as many people as possible to reap the physical and mental benefits of enjoying nature.
Speaking on the review, Glover said: “Seventy years ago Parliament voted to protect our finest landscapes for everyone’s benefit. Now it is time to renew that mission. We need to preserve and enhance their beauty, help people who live in them and turn around the decline in the natural environment. We also need to make sure they can be understood and enjoyed by all parts of a changed society. These are big challenges and I hope the review I am leading will make progress towards meeting them.”
The Green Party of England and Wales has made it a priority to support access to natural environments, with its Spring Conference in March 2018 voting to support the recognition of access to nature as a human right, while Green MP Caroline Lucas called on the government to change planning rules to ensure that everyone in the UK has access to green space and its benefits to mental health.