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Kate Richards: Putting nature at the heart of the journey and the destination

by | 02 May 24 | Long Reads, Nature & Biodiversity, Opinion | 0 comments

Land Studio’s Kate Richards shares the importance of access to green spaces and the routes between them

The National Trust and First News have conducted a survey that shows that children want more time in nature, but that parents are unable to take them to local greenspaces frequently, due to a lack of accessibility.

The National Trust has renewed its call to the Government to enshrine in law that everyone should be 15 minutes away from green or blue spaces in the UK.

As the director general of the National Trust, Hilary McGrady says: “The benefits of ensuring access to nature is plain to see, but there is unequal access to it. The impact that being in nature has on young people is profound and we need policy makers to stand up and develop a long-term plan to ensure everyone has access to green space. Research shows that if children and young people can engage with nature early in life, they grow up to care about the natural world and are more likely to take action to protect it.”

The survey reveals that 31% of parents from lower income households cite the main barrier to accessing nature as cost, and more than over 55% of children want better access to green space.

 

So how do people access nature and how is this changing?

 

National Trust sites are famously rural in their nature, usually located in the heart of the countryside, or on the periphery of our towns and cities, and are therefore generally accessed by private car.

But things are changing, with the Trust recognising that people in cities also want to experience nature. Castlefield Viaduct, in the centre of Manchester, is a great example of this.

The Royal Horticultural Society has also taken this view, with the establishment of Bridgewater Garden to the west of the city.

The garden can be reached by buses from Manchester (some stopping right next to the Welcome Building during the summer months), while there are plans underway to develop a Greenway that connects Worsley to the garden too.

This connection will also link up with existing traffic-free routes such as the Bridgewater Way, and the wider Bee Network as part of a £3.2million RHS Cycling and Walking Links scheme.

 

So what is the solution?

 

Imagine if the routes to all green spaces were traffic-free? Suddenly the prospect of accessing nature, via a nature-friendly cycle or footpath, would look far more attractive to everyone.

The wider benefits to health and wellbeing are important to note, with well-connected and well-distributed networks of green spaces used “to improve physical and mental health, urban liveability and to enhance resilience to environmental risks” as set out in the United Nations New Urban Agenda in 2016.

Additional arguments for the implementation of greenways include the enhancement of adjacent urban form, the promotion of the conservation of habitats and biodiversity, the provision of opportunities for fitness and recreation, the advocacy of economic growth and the increased sustainability of communities.

Furthermore, the recent update to planning policy in Wales now puts a stronger emphasis on green infrastructure, underpinned by both a commitment to protecting and enhancing the environment and the wellbeing of people, through the Future Generations Act.

One of the most important outcomes in developing greenway networks to enable more people to access nature, is to rebalance the inequalities that currently prohibit some groups in society from being able to do so.

The work we are currently doing at Land Studio with the National Trust, at a number of their sites across the North West of England, seeks to address issues around accessibility and inclusivity.

The Trust is committed to ensuring that all their visitors feel welcome to explore the unique landscapes they care for, all year round, which means that we are often asked to reimagine path networks, arrival spaces and vantage points in order to enhance and enrich people’s experiences.

Often there are challenging level changes, historic features and designated landscapes to work within, but the overarching aim is to improve access for everyone.

Blog by Kate Richards, associate landscape architect at Land Studio

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