Nature plays an important role in our daily lives – be it wildlife watching, playing outdoors, as a mood enhancer or even commuting through a green space on the way to work. There is now a substantial body of evidence supporting the value of green (and blue) spaces to our health and well-being and that by protecting and enhancing these wild places and creating more, we would improve our lives and help nature to flourish.
However, there are groups in society that have unequal access and are under-represented in these green spaces, compromising their opportunity to connect with nature. As a result these people don’t reap the important benefits of nature and don’t value it in the same way. Research from the Noticing Nature report produced by the University of Derby found that 77% of children infrequently or never listened to birdsong and 79% of adults infrequently or never smelled wild flowers. Also those who took part in nature-based activities are more likely to say that they’re happier than the rest of the population, which emphasises how there are too many people who are disconnected with our natural environment. At the end of the 20th century, almost 90% of the UK population lived in towns and cities and the pressures of urban living can often mean that they pay less attention to the natural environment and have limited access to good quality green space. Unfortunately, it is clear that barriers take shape in many different forms such as socioeconomic status or location, which can lead to minority groups being unable to experience nature in the same way as others.
Over the years we have connected with community groups and through sharing their lived experiences they expressed their disconnect with nature and struggled with a sense of belonging in green spaces. These stories are echoed in many groups in society, including young people, BAME groups, low socioeconomic communities, people experiencing mental ill health, LGBTQ+ groups and disabled people. Social and cultural barriers also exist where some people don’t feel safe and feel out of place which stresses the need for having greater representation of these groups using, working and enjoying these spaces.
So we need to make nature more accessible for everyone. An inviting, accepting and inclusive environment where the people that support and connect with nature are as diverse as our wildlife. Along with it being everyone’s right to access and connect with nature, we have an environmental crisis. With the State of Nature report detailing 41% of UK species being in decline and 14% of those are under threat with extinction, it emphasises how we need more people than ever to champion nature’s recovery. So connecting a wider spectrum of people to know nature’s wonders will benefit everyone and our environment.
On the Dunsmore Living Landscape project, we are committed to connecting communities from a variety of backgrounds and demographics with their local green spaces and heritage sites. We have reached out to under-represented groups across our scheme area since the project started to listen and learn about how they would like to connect with nature and what barriers exist for them. We have supported and valued their contributions which have shaped our engagement work where we have been able to better accommodate and work with these community groups. Some of these groups include: the Women of Willenhall, Warwickshire Young Carers and Acorn Court Dementia Group.
We have also raised awareness of different and creative opportunities to encourage people to visit green spaces and improved people’s confidence being in a natural setting. Furthermore, we have been able to create two waymarked circular walks around Wappenbury Wood, one of which is accessible to off-road trampers during periods of drier weather. Widened rides, new footbridges, pathways and interpretation have made this a more inviting and inclusive place to explore. All of this targeted work is worthwhile and very important to us, but we are aware that more work needs to be done to engage new audiences to bridge that gap and ensure everyone is involved with our work.
Removing barriers to diverse participation – be it visiting a nature reserve to working in the sector requires coordinated, mindful actions by many organisations, projects and individuals across the environment sector and further afield. Collectively we all need to reflect, learn and change our approach and work closer with under-represented communities as allies to reduce those barriers that exist today. As a Warwickshire Wildlife Trust led project, we have a genuine desire for change and endeavour to continue to address the way we work in partnership to create an inclusive landscape that reflects all walks of life. Nature is for everyone.
Warwickshire Young Carers tree climbing and macro photography (top left and right), Acorn Court Dementia Group making nature crafts (bottom left) and a school outreach den building session (bottom right).
If you have been inspired to champion this important subject and want to share with others, there are some resources and interesting blogs below to enlighten you further.