Nature within walking distance: the inequalities and realities of access…#actfornature

Nature and wild spaces isn’t just about the clichéd image of a ‘twitcher’. In the run up to the General Election, we’re posting a series of themed blogs looking at all the different aspects of our work here at Warwickshire Wildlife Trust, and reflecting on the values that we will be voting for. This week, Youth Engagement Officer Matt shares some of his thoughts on the idea of having nature within walking distance, based on his experiences working with young people.

Having a natural space within no more than 10 minutes walking distance from where you live seems like a brilliant objective to include in a Nature and Wellbeing Act. It’s an ambitious enough aspiration without sounding so wild that it would be unachievable. It’s also backed up by a selection of good research. An interesting report published in 2011 by the Department for Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) aimed to put a monetary value on the natural assets of the UK including our public green spaces. It estimated that they are worth a combined total of £30bn in health and welfare benefits to the population. Worryingly the report also found a steady decline in the amount of urban green space since 1979.

Image copyright Matt Cox (WWT) 2015
Image copyright Matt Cox (WWT) 2015

 

Of course this isn’t referring to just nature areas and includes a full spectrum including things like school playing fields. But this drop-off becomes even more significant when you consider that even just living within view of greenery can be better for your health and mental wellbeing. This is exactly what research conducted at the University of Exeter found in 2013. It reported that people would not just like to live near to greener areas because it’s nicer, but because it actually improves their standard of living in a range of ways. Findings of this research can be found here and includes a great little video by Matt White, an Environmental Psychologist who explains how they obtained these findings.

Image copyright Matt Cox (WWT) 2015
Image copyright Matt Cox (WWT) 2015

 

So will making sure that everyone is within ten minutes walking distance from a natural space make everyone’s lives better? The research would seem to suggest so, but I think the reality is much more complicated. This is where my work with young people comes in.

Image copyright Matt Cox (WWT) 2015
Image copyright Matt Cox (WWT) 2015

 

Young people, along with children, are interesting because they are reported to be more disengaged with nature than any generation within the last 100 years. Richard Louve, author of ‘Last Child in the Woods’ says “The message we’re sending kids is that nature is in the past and probably doesn’t count anymore, the future’s in electronics, the boogeyman lives in the woods, and playing outdoors is probably illicit and possibly illegal”.This is not true across the board and I work with plenty of young people who love being outdoors and for whom nature will grow to be something that they value greatly.

Image copyright MSC Photographic 2015
Image copyright MSC Photographic 2015

 

However, for the many vulnerable young people, who are battling against social exclusion of some kind, this statement certainly rings true. The local natural space to them is dodgy, one where you’re more likely to be a victim of crime than have a wildlife experience. Their bubble of existence over the past year may well have been confined to urban limits. The extinction of experience is happening to these young people and they need help.

Image copyright Matt Cox (WWT) 2015
Image copyright Matt Cox (WWT) 2015

 

Nature spaces aren’t just an issue of physical access but also of social inclusion, so it is vital that in providing more natural spaces we’re matching this with the support needed to allow everybody to enjoy nature once again.

Warwickshire Wildlife Trust has been running youth programmes since 2008, engaging young people from all over Warwickshire in activities that spread a love for nature and adventure. Visit our website to find out more.

Matt

If you’ve been inspired by Matt’s work then please cast your vote for nature by signing The Wildlife Trusts’ e-petition urging MPs to pledge their support for a Nature and Wellbeing Act. Follow the campaign on social media using #actfornature and inspire your friends and family to do their bit for nature too!

Remember to return to this blog next Thursday at 8pm for the next installment in our General Election series. Or click the “Follow” button on the right of this post to follow our blog and receive a notification whenever we post.

References:

Would You Be Happier Living in a Greener Urban Area? A Fixed-Effects Analysis of Panel Data, Mathew P. White, Ian Alcock, Benedict W. Wheeler and Michael H. Depledge, Psychological Science, published online 23 April 2013, DOI: 10.1177/0956797612464659

http://www.learningfirst.org/last-child-woods-our-interview-best-selling-author-richard-louv#sthash.cnaEoVIE.dpuf

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