At this time of national crisis, the importance of access to green spaces for physical and mental health is starkly highlighted. Many people, particularly within more disadvantaged communities, do not have access to green space within 300 metres of their home.
As the lockdown period continues and some level of social distancing measures looks set to continue for the foreseeable future, mitigating the physical and mental health risks to those confined to their homes for ever longer periods becomes increasingly important. The effects of lockdown will disproportionately affect the mental health of those from more disadvantaged communities, living alone and without access to gardens, balconies or green space, further exacerbating existing health inequalities. LNP partners are well aware of this and are working together to mitigate some of the effects of this where possible.
While we are familiar with the requirement for 150 mins physical activity a week, there is also considerable evidence that exposure to nature for at least 120 mins per week is a key factor in maintaining positive mental health. It must be recognised that is not just exercise that people need, but also activity in a green or blue (rivers and lakes) environment containing wildlife and nature to preserve mental health during this difficult period.
There should be consideration as to whether some gardening centres, for example, could be considered essential services, supporting people to grow food and plants and engage with nature and maintain their wellbeing and food security.
Gloucestershire Local Nature Partnership has an active Nature and Health working group, and strengthening the links between members of the group, which includes the NHS/Public Health, is an area GLNP has been working on for some time that is particularly relevant now.
In the longer term, this pandemic underlines the need to ensure that access to high quality green spaces for all in Gloucestershire is seen as essential, not optional, and GLNP is keen to continue to work through its partners to support the implementation of the Gloucestershire Nature Recovery Network priorities and Strategic Green Infrastructure Framework. The application of Building with Nature principles to new developments, and the adoption of a Natural Capital approach to growth are two key ways of doing this.
As preparations are made in the county for planning the economic and societal recovery from this crisis, it is important that we speak with a strong voice to capitalise on the current awareness of the importance of the natural environment to health and wellbeing. The improvements to air quality from reduced levels of traffic are well documented and consideration should be given to methods of maintaining these improvements. Roadside verges and playing fields in some instances have received less management, creating more space for nature to thrive. Anecdotally, birds and other animals seem to have been venturing more into urban areas, possibly due to reduced traffic volume, leading to mood-enhancing birdsong and confrontations with foxes and the like which lift the spirits and remind us that we co-habit this planet, and are responsible for our impact on other species.
While getting the economy moving again is of vital importance to all aspects of life in Glocuestershire, let's not do it blindly, returning to the post-Covid world, but encourage green growth, stimulating sustainable businesses, and link recovery packages to enhancements in natural capital, to reductions in carbon emissions, and to projects that will reduce inequalities.
The LNP continues to work hard to mainstream investment into enhancement of the natural environment and Green Infrastructure for the myriad benefits it provides to society, economy and wildlife.