The Outdoors for All coalition has published a manifesto to call for wider access to green spaces in the UK. It is calling for a change in legislation to open up the countryside, waterways, woodlands and riversides to the public for recreational use. The bill is supported by the Countryside Charity and 35 other leading organisations.
Despite having 15 national parks and numerous other areas of outstanding natural beauty, the UK ranks the lowest of 14 European countries for its citizens’ connection to nature, and it is also in the bottom five for levels of physical activity. Researchers have equated this disparity with a lack of access to green outdoor spaces.
The Outdoors for All Coalition is calling for access to be expanded to well managed and nature-rich spaces throughout the UK that can be enjoyed by everyone. It advocates for a culture where citizens will benefit from a right to use the countryside recreationally, and also have an awareness of their responsibilities to protect and respect their environment.
In December 2023, it was revealed that the government had taken no action to meet a previous pledge that everyone in the UK would live within a 15 minute walk of a green space, and that an idea to make the target legally binding has been scrapped. This is despite a pledge to get 3.5 million people more physically active by 2030.
Lack of physical activity is a leading cause of ill health and untimely deaths in the UK, which is estimated to cost the country around £7.4bn per year in lost productivity, sick pay, and NHS resources. Campaigners believe that better access to nature would save at least £2.1bn per year in health and benefits spending.
The British Mountaineering Council (BMC) is supporting the bid, and also raised awareness of the other barriers that stop people from accessing the outdoors. These include a culture of long working hours, lack of transport, costly equipment and cultural barriers.
Dr Catherine Flitcroft, Senior Policy and Campaigns Manager, British Mountaineering Council said: “The outdoors really is for everyone and the past few years have demonstrated this.”
She added: “And yet those in power have yet to fully realise the huge health, economic, and social benefits of this – for too long access to our green and blue spaces has not been seen as a priority and it’s heart-warming to know that so many of us believe this needs to change. The BMC is proud to support this partnership vision for action.”
Scotland, a popular destination for walking holidays, is much better served than England for access to the open countryside. In England, just 8% of the land and 4% of the rivers has uncontested public access, and this excludes horse riders and cyclists in many cases.
In Scotland, there is an ancient right to roam that was embedded into law in 2005. This allows everyone equal access to almost all of the land and waterways for recreational purposes, in line with the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.