The UK Government recently announced a major environmental plan whereby each household in England will be situated within a 15-minute walk of water or open green space. This Environmental Improvement Programme will see everyone embracing the healing power of nature via woodlands, local parks, rivers, canals, coastal stretches, wetlands, and stunning countryside walks.
The plans within the programme include 30,000 miles of hedgerow to be restored or created by 2037. In addition, more funding towards protecting rare wildlife like red squirrels and hedgehogs. Not just that, but the plans also include 25 new or enlarged national nature reserves and the restoration of 1.2m acres or 500,000 hectares of wildlife habitats, and 400 miles of river.
The aim behind the plan is to clean up water and air, reduce waste, and boost nature over the next five years in England. Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister of England has said protecting the natural environment is fundamental to the economy, prosperity, and health of the country.
The plan essentially acts as a blueprint for how the Government will be delivering its commitment to leave the country’s environment in a better state than it was found, ensuring they make progress with renewed ambition and achieve its target of reversing the decline of nature and not just halting nature degradation.
Beyond the environmental benefits, there is a lot of scope to suggest frequent visits to open green spaces to improve well-being and mental health. One study found that these regular visits can reduce the need for prescription drugs for mental health issues like anxiety and depression, as well as physical ailments like asthma and high blood pressure.
Why the emphasis on green space, and what will this mean for the people of England?
The COVID-19 lockdowns highlighted the need for green space, and the Government recognises the importance of connecting with nature. During the lockdowns, nature offered members of the community a break from the hell they were experiencing. The Government’s new plan will make open green space accessible to all, despite whether they live in a busy town or on the outskirts of a city.
The definition of open green space in the UK refers to any land that has growing vegetation. This could mean obvious spaces like a playing field, but also an allotment or a disused railway line. Others working within policy have also shared their opinions on this planned development, stating that open green space is essential, but it is too important that the space is not devoid of nature or polluted.
In 2018, the UK government promised to leave the environment in a better condition for future generations. Now the government has laid out how it intends to meet its targets on biodiversity, waste, and water quality in addition to its global commitments agreed upon at the COP15 UN biodiversity summit. Ultimately, they plan to put environmental protection at the heart of all new government policies, and it is hoped that these open green spaces will positively enhance the well-being of all citizens.