WWT calls for increasing access to wetlands to be a key part of Levelling Up

WWT is calling for plans for Levelling Up to include increasing access to urban wetlands as the government publishes its Levelling Up White Paper.

The White Paper sets out how the government will tackle geographic inequalities across the UK. We welcome that one of the Government’s “Missions to Level Up the UK” is to improve well-being in every area of the UK, and close the gap between top performing and other areas. We also welcome the recognition that natural spaces influence people’s decisions about where to live and quality of life once they are there.

However, a more direct focus on levelling up access to nature, especially wetlands, is essential if we are to capture the benefits this would bring to our wellbeing. As is a larger scale and strategic investment in urban wetlands, as 84% of people in the UK live in urban areas.

Evidence shows that blue spaces, that is areas prominently featuring water, are particularly effective at reducing stress. WWT’s own research has demonstrated that just 10-minute exposures in urban wetlands may be enough to produce improvements in mood. Levelling Up access to wetlands has the potential to improve mental wellbeing across the country.

Urban wetlands also bring a host of other benefits which would level up quality of life. They provide resilience to the effects of climate change such as flooding and heatwaves; they provide opportunities to improve physical health through exercise and active travel; and they bring nature back into our communities, reconnecting us with the natural world, which further boosts mental wellbeing.

Access to natural spaces, including wetlands, is currently extremely uneven. 2.78m people do not live within a ten-minute walk of a green space and while 70% of people in the least deprived areas spend time in the natural environment every week only 57% of people in the most deprived areas do. Strategic planning and significant investment is needed to give people equal opportunity to access the benefits of wetlands. In fact, access to natural spaces is cited as the second most important feature for an ideal neighbourhood, showing people want increased access to nature in their communities.

WWT is calling for a Blue Recovery, with the creation or restoration of 100,000 hectares of healthy wetlands across the country. This includes in urban spaces such as the Salt Hill Stream in Slough where we worked with the local community to create a healthier wetland for the town, including disadvantaged communities.

In order to unlock the benefits of wetlands for the whole country, plans for Levelling Up should support wetland creation and restoration by:

  • Including targets for access to and use of natural spaces, including blue spaces, as a core component of what Levelling Up aims to achieve.
  • Making investment in wetlands and other blue and green infrastructure (a network of multi-functional green and blue spaces which is capable of delivering a wide range of benefits) eligible for current and future funding for Levelling Up.
  • Introducing a mandatory standard for access to blue and green spaces for all homes.

Including these changes in plans for Levelling Up would help to give people equal access to the enormous benefits integrating wetlands into our urban areas can bring.

WWT is working 60+ other organisations to achieve a legal right to access nature.

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