I can so clearly remember, within a few weeks of starting my dream job at SERT, standing on the banks of a beautiful chalk stream in the headwaters of the River Loddon in Hampshire: “Oh no” (I thought) “I should be at work. Oh my! I am at work!”
Four years later, that same feeling still comes to me often; when I am out in the catchment scoping projects with partners and delivering community projects, in towns or in the countryside. Despite the kinds of frustrations of budgets, reporting, and writing funding bids that come with most jobs, I feel lucky almost every day, that my work takes me to such beautiful places and brings me into contact with such inspiring and committed people.
Not being able to carry out these site visits during Covid-19 only reinforces how important it is to able to spend time outside and immersed in natural spaces.
I am lucky enough to have access to some lovely green spaces in and around where I live. I cannot imagine how frustrating it must be for anyone starved of those chances. Moving into the future, one lasting legacy of Covid-19 should be a greater appreciation for how essential access to good quality green space is.
Trees and water are often seen as the top attractions, but quiet spaces like meadows and heathlands are also food for the soul, and are places that can mend and strengthen our mental health and resilience.
The new Environmental Land Management schemes are being designed right now; and surely this is a time when realistic access for everyone to natural green space must be considered – in the countryside, but even more so for urban areas. Integrating development planning with health and wellbeing targets, and maximising the multitude of benefits from agriculture and the countryside, have seldom been more in the forefront of people’s minds, and we are in a position to drive this thinking forward.
The Environmental Land Management scheme is currently being consulted on, and you can read about it here: ELMs discussion document. During the Covid-19 emergency response, the consultation has been paused, but you can register your interest and be alerted when it resumes. In the future the consultation information can be found here.
Remember to always have permission – either directly from the landowner, or through using rights of way and open access areas – when enjoying the countryside. Enjoying it responsibly with respect for anyone making a living and producing our food, as well as the wildlife that calls it home, will encourage greater willingness to allow and enable more access for all.
Providing better green and blue spaces in towns retrospectively can be harder, but this is where rivers come into their own. Restoring urban rivers and their corridors not only benefits wildlife, but can provide a way of more easily finding space for play and contemplation for people too. Many rivers are bound by hard engineering on both banks, but where they are not, or where industries have ceased along the banks, imaginative use of that brownfield site, making room for water and wildlife has great potential. Over time, one stretch of the River Wandle has been transformed from this – to this.
How many more sites are there with the opportunity for such an inspiring and beneficial transformation?
If you know of any, please let us and your local authorities know.
Meanwhile, if it’s safe for you to do so, please do carry on enjoying and taking care of the natural world around you, wherever you can find it.
And for those of us who aren’t able to get out there at the moment, stay safe and be sure, we will get back to it.