The benefits of being close to the natural environment on people’s health and wellbeing are widely accepted. As well as the clear benefits on mental health, recent studies have shown that exposure to green spaces can help to reduce the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and premature death.
This might partly be due to the fact that people with access to green spaces are more likely to partake in regular outdoor exercise. This also leads to economic benefits, as a healthier population should put less strain on our health service. Unfortunately, over 80% of the UKs population live in urban areas and are less likely to have access to green spaces. Depression and other mental health related issues are becoming more common and external pressures on our natural environment are increasing.
Priority Places for England (PPE) have been identified by the Forestry Commission as a 4km radius of urban areas that are within the 40% most deprived areas in England. In Cornwall, there are many opportunities to access nature. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act (CROW 2000) gives you the legal right to access certain areas, such as land classed as open country, common land or a public right of way. In addition, landowners/managers (such as the Cornwall Wildlife Trust) may permit free public access.
When assessing access, we considered three factors:
- The proximity to public trails which are prioritised
- The proximity to urban areas, particularly areas designated PPEs
- The general accessibility of a site, considering access permissions, the suitability of paths and the ease of getting there (via walking, car or public transport)
The highest scoring sites will be close to urban conurbations, be accessible via prioritised public trails and/or open access rights, and have paths suitable for people of all abilities. Low scoring sites are likely to have restricted access and/or are far from urban areas and difficult to travel to.