To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what steps he is taking to improve free access to the countryside and nature for all UK residents.
22 December 2021
The Government's 25 Year Environment Plan (25YEP), published in January 2018, makes major new commitments to connect people with the environment to improve health and wellbeing. Building on this work, the Green Recovery Challenge Fund has recently awarded £80million to nature-based projects across England to support a green recovery from Covid-19. The fund has "connecting people with nature" as one of its three key objectives. An example of one of the projects delivered is GreenSpace for Health, which aims to make NHS sites greener and provide outdoor wellbeing sessions for NHS staff.
The Government is also working to create new access through the completion of the England Coast Path: a 2700 mile long National Trail around the whole of the English coast. Following its inclusion in the Conservative Party manifesto and the Chancellor's Autumn Statement, Defra has also asked Natural England to prepare a report proposing the Coast to Coast as a National Trail between St Bees in Cumbria and Robin Hoods Bay in North Yorkshire. The goal is to realise the full environmental, social and economic benefits that a new National Trail will bring by working closely with local stakeholders to identify opportunities, for instance for link routes which maximise accessibility to and from the Trail to local centres of population.
We will also continue to pay for heritage, access and engagement through our existing environmental land management schemes and we will consider how to maintain investment in these areas as part of future schemes.
On top of this, we are leading a £5.77million cross-Governmental project to test nature-based social prescribing in seven test and learn sites, run national research work to understand its scalability, and deliver a robust project evaluation. This will help improve mental health and wellbeing by connecting more people to nature.
Lastly, the recently announced £9million Levelling Up Parks Fund will create over 100 green spaces across the UK on land which is unused, undeveloped or derelict. The Fund, led by the Department for Levelling Up Housing and Communities, will seek to increase accessibility to quality green space across the UK, helping to level up areas which are most deprived of green space and provide communities with a place to come together.