Margaret Greenwood MP has spoken out in parliament about the value of access to nature for health and wellbeing and the importance of providing opportunities for children to develop a love of the natural world.
The Wirral West MP was speaking in a parliamentary debate this week on public access to nature.
She drew attention to the research that shows the importance of access to nature to mental health, and to a number of studies and surveys from recent years that have shown there is inequality in access to nature and green spaces across the country.
One such survey, conducted for the Ramblers in 2020, found that fewer than 50% of those with household incomes of less than £15,000 a year lived close to a green space, but 63% of those with annual household incomes of more than £35,000 could find a green space within a five minute walk of their home.
The government has been under pressure recently from opposition MPs and campaign groups to introduce legislation to extend the right to roam, and to improve promotion of the countryside code. Currently, the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 only provides access to 8% of English land and the public can only access 3% of rivers in England and Wales.
Margaret Greenwood said in the debate that “it is vital for us to recognise the importance of protecting and enhancing the right to roam”. She referenced the Kinder Scout mass trespass in 1932 and the impact that it had on people being able to enjoy the great outdoors today. She did, however, say that we need to see more change so that the countryside can be opened up to people further.
The Wirral West MP also highlighted some of the natural wonders of Wirral West, pointing in particular to the Hilbre Islands and the Dee Estuary Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), an area of international importance for migrating birds and a favourite place for seal-spotting.
She also raised the importance of creating opportunities for children and young people to enjoy the natural world, and spoke about the important work done on this at Ganneys Meadow Nursery School and Family Centre on the Woodchurch estate in enabling and encouraging children to explore the natural environment in an area at the school that includes an orchard, willow dens, and paths.
Speaking after the debate, Margaret Greenwood MP said, “Access to nature is immensely important to our health and wellbeing.
“The mental health charity Mind has said that spending time in green space or making nature a part of everyday life by growing food or flowers, exercising outdoors or being around animals can benefit both mental and physical wellbeing.
“The beauty of the natural world has also inspired numerous much-loved writers and artists who form an important part of our culture.
“In Wirral West, people have many opportunities to explore nature, whether that be by visiting the coast or spending time in the numerous parks or National Trust sites at Caldy Hill, Thurstaston Common, Irby Hill and Harrock Wood.
“People care deeply about the natural world, and it is vital for us to ensure that it is accessible and unspoilt.
“The government has pledged to ensure that the natural environment can be enjoyed, used by and cared for by everyone, but there is a great deal of work to do in that regard.
“They must take steps to address the fact that, in recent years, numerous studies have found that there is unequal access to green spaces across the UK.
“It is important for people of all ages and backgrounds to be able to access nature and enjoy the many benefits that it brings.”