Updated Feb 28, 2022

Calls for right to nature to be legislated

Campaigners are calling for the government to enshrine the provision of equal access to nature-rich green and blue spaces for everyone into law.

In response to the government's recently published levelling-up white paper, that stated 12 national missions which will be given legal status in a levelling-up and regeneration bill, more than 60 organisations, across the nature, planning, health and equality sectors, have called for the move in a letter to levelling-up secretary Michael Gove.

This coalition of campaigners are calling on the government to:

  • ensure equal access to thriving natural spaces is a key measure of success for levelling up;
  • establish legal duties in levelling-up legislation for developers and public bodies to provide equal access to nature-rich green and blue spaces for everyone;
  • provide funding for locally accessible nature-rich spaces including extending the levelling-up fund to green and blue infrastructure projects.

These calls are backed by evidence from a poll of adults that looked into adults access to nature, which found:

  • 80% of the British public thought everyone should have a legal right to be able to access nature-rich spaces in their local area - this figure increased to 88% of those who were in nature-deprived areas;
  • 83% said it is more important to have access to natural space since the pandemic lockdowns and working from home began;
  • 66% believe more or better natural spaces would increase their quality of life;
  • 44% say they would be likely to exercise more with more and better accessible nature sites nearby.

Chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts, Craig Bennett, said: "Having access to wild places and wildlife shouldn't be a privilege, but a part of everyday life. We know how much people treasure time spent in nature near where they live but for many communities this simply isn't possible. The most deprived areas have nine times less green space than the wealthiest – and poorer areas are where people's health is the worst."

"Our towns and cities have a huge role to play in nature's recovery. We need to create and join up habitats, enabling species to recover and benefiting people too. It is critical that nature is at the heart of all planning and development, for wildlife, communities, and climate."

CEO of Wildlife and Countryside Link, Dr Richard Benwell, commented: "The government says levelling up means pride of place and equal opportunity. But for many people, this ends the moment they step out of their door. So many lives are worsened or shortened by disconnection from nature. So many could be improved by the chance to get active, get together and get in touch with nature. Unless levelling up includes a legal right to healthy local natural spaces, it will surely fail. This is the government's chance to show that the benefits of nature are truly everyone's to enjoy."

Mark Rowland, CEO at the Mental Health Foundation, also added: "Our research and that of others has demonstrated that connection to nature is fundamental to good mental health. We are facing a double threat from significant biodiversity loss in the UK and enduring inequality in access, which is leaving millions of people with little opportunity to benefit from nature. It is not just the frequency of contact with nature that matters. The quality and abundance of nature is also vital in terms of the mental health benefits and that is why levelling up must mean delivering on nature's renewal and a clear pathway to equitable access to nature across the UK."