1021 GMT April 18, 2019
Almost half of the country’s most socially deprived areas are more than 15 miles by road from 10 national parks and 46 areas of outstanding natural beauty (AONB), according to a submission to a government review into how national assets are being managed, theguardian.com reported.
The worst for accessibility is an area between Leicester, Grantham, Kettering and Corby. Other places out of range include Liverpool, Nottingham, Birkenhead and South Shields. Wealthier areas such as Exeter, Bath, Oxford and Brighton are far better connected.
The study was commissioned by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) and has prompted calls for better bus and train links from towns and cities.
More than nine in 10 journeys to national parks are made by car and Natural England has estimated that people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds account for about one percent of visitors to national parks despite making up about 14 percent of the general population.
Emma Marrington of the CPRE said, “When the most beautiful parts of England’s countryside were given national park status, or designated as AONBs, they were done so as a public good — so that everyone could enjoy the benefits that access to them can bring.
“But a huge amount of people are currently missing out. Regular interaction with the natural world — fresh air, exercise, escaping the stresses and strains of urban living, just being in the great outdoors – is inextricably linked to increased levels of health and happiness.”
The CPRE hoped that if more people visit national parks, public support will grow for the protection of the natural environment, which the group seeks to protect against developments such as fracking and high-volume housebuilding.
Studies have suggested that living in green spaces, or even just visiting them, can help people recover from stress and mental fatigue, can reduce blood pressure and may even accelerate healing after surgery, according to the Center for Research on Environment, Society and Health at Edinburgh and Glasgow universities. But reaching theses spaces is getting harder, according to a former government advisor on accessibility to national parks.
“Rural bus networks have been cut back and cut back so that a round a quarter of the population who do not have a car are denied access to national parks,” said Colin Speakman, who volunteers for DalesBus, a service operated by a community interest company that takes people from Leeds, Middlesbrough, Bradford, Lancaster and Preston to the Yorkshire Dales for about £8 return.
It runs all year but is busiest in summer, when it operates 12 routes and carries up to 3,500 passengers a week.
Almost half of the passengers live alone and close to a third have physical or mental health problems.
“We pick up a large number of older, single people who have been widowed or live on their own and for whom a trip to a national park is a lifeline to keep them sane,” Speakman said.
The service costs about £100,000 a year in subsidies. A similar service has been set up for the North York Moors. Speakman wants the government to fund a wider rollout.
“One million pounds for the 10 national parks would allow each to have a beautiful, fully integrated network from the conurbations,” he said. “It’s peanuts. Our subsidy from the national parks is £5,000.”
The 10 parks receive £48.7 million a year in government funding.
National Parks England said enabling access to all sections of society was a challenge. Tony Gates, the chief executive of Northumberland national park, said the parks wanted to develop better transport links. It also wants to create a partnership with the UK National Health Services to make sure every child can visit a national park while at school.
Gates said, “Clearly a big challenge in achieving this will be providing access to transport. National park authorities would love to see more support and investment in this area to enable us to realize the significant opportunities which national parks provide for people’s health and wellbeing.”
Julian Glover, a former speechwriter for David Cameron who is leading the government’s landscape review, said that as well as turning around the decline in the natural environment of some areas it was also necessary to make sure they could “be understood and enjoyed by all parts of a changing society”.