Call to boost green space as research shows millions in ‘nature-deprived’ areas

Campaigners are calling for action to improve local green spaces, after research revealed millions struggle to access greenery in their area.

Research by Friends of the Earth suggests 11 million people in England live in neighbourhoods that are the most deprived of green spaces, including private gardens, parks and open fields.

The findings are backed up by a separate survey from The Ramblers which found that while the pandemic had increased the importance of local parks and greenery for people, many did not have green space within five minutes’ walk.

Both pieces of research reveal the inequalities of access to green space, with those on lower incomes and from a black, Asian or minority ethnic background much more likely to lack available outdoor natural spaces.

The Friends of the Earth study, supported by the People’s Postcode Lottery, combined digital maps on parks, gardens and open access land such as commons, heaths and mountains and official data on income and ethnicity by neighbourhood.

It rated neighbourhoods on a scale of A-E and found 1,257 fell into the most deprived category, with less than nine square metres of public green space per person, very little garden space and where larger amounts of green areas are more than five minutes’ walk for at least 75% of residents.

The research revealed that one in five people in England, almost 11 million people, lived in these neighbourhoods.

And it showed that more than two fifths (42%) of BAME people live in England’s most green space-deprived neighbourhoods, compared to 20% of white people, according to the data.

Friends of the Earth is calling for the Government to invest £4 billion a year to boost green space in the most deprived neighbourhoods as part of a green recovery from Covid-19.

Friends of the Earth nature campaigner Paul de Zylva said: “For many of us, lockdown exposed how critical quality outdoor space and nature is for our health and wellbeing.

“But our research shows just how much of a distant reality that is for millions of people across England who live in nature-deprived neighbourhoods.

“Everyone has the right to live in a healthy environment. Greener neighbourhoods, well-insulated homes and high-quality cycling routes are some of the key parts of this.”

He said the forthcoming spending review was an opportunity to invest in measures to make people happier and healthier, improve equality, and help fix the climate crisis.

Canal path
A survey for The Ramblers found only 57% of people were within a five-minute walk greenery such as canal towpaths (Emily Beament/PA)

Separate research by the Ramblers found that green spaces were important to most people, with two thirds (65%) quizzed in a YouGov poll saying access to green areas always been important to them.

A further fifth (19%) said local green spaces have become more important to them than before the Covid-19 pandemic.

But only 57% of the 2,012 people quizzed for the survey said local green spaces such as a public park, nearby fields or canal tow path were within five minutes’ walk.

That fell to 39% of people from a BAME background, and 46% among all adults with a household income of under £15,000, compared to 63% of those with household incomes over £35,000.

The Ramblers says no-one should live more than a five-minute walk from green space and the walking charity is calling for long-term binding targets for access to nature in the Environment Bill, to ensure towns and cities are green.

Gemma Cantelo, head of policy and advocacy for The Ramblers, said there was a need to build on the momentum of an increase in walking in the wake of the pandemic.

“People want to visit green spaces on their doorstep where they can be active and enjoy the benefits of connecting with nature.

“Our towns and cities should be designed to make this a reality, with nature-filled green spaces linked by safe, easy-to-follow walking routes,” she urged.

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