Stuck without a garden? Government plans to bring nature to you

Wildlife and wellbeing set to benefit from nature’s restoration

The government has revealed plans to enable everyone in England to have access to green spaces and/or water within a 15-minute walk from their home. 

If realised, the plans will mean opportunities to reap the benefits of walking in nature, or to embrace wild swimming with an invigorating dip in a river, should be closer to home for more people. 

couple with bicycles and dog outside in spring nature.Credit: Shutterstock / Ground Picture
Not everyone has nature on their doorstep

Forming part of the government’s Environmental Improvement Plan 2023, improved access to green spaces and water will be achieved through the creation, restoration and extension of around 70 wildlife habitats.

More than £750 million is also being pledged for investment in tree planting and peatland restoration.  

Active travel will also be given a boost in the plan, with a vision for half of all journeys in towns and cities to be cycled or walked by 2030, as well as the restoration of 400 miles of riverbed, waste reduction and a commitment to protect the environment forming the core of all future policy. 

Man planting a tree in the ground with grass and a shovelCredit: Shutterstock / Guas
Major investment is being poured into planting more trees

Too little, too late?

But is this latest announcement – which could see the nation have better access to walks in nature, wild swimming and cycling routes – too little, too late? 

“A dramatic increase in funding is needed if the UK is to reach its target to protect 30% of our land and sea for nature by 2030 [which it cites in the plan],” Craig Bennett, chief executive of The Wildlife Trusts, told us in a statement.

“Progress towards this target is painfully slow because Government funding for biodiversity is more than 10% lower than it was a decade ago – yet we know that £1.2 billion extra each year is needed to restore nature.  

“The Government must find new cash to do this – not just recycle existing funding pots under new names.” 

Is nature nearby for you?

Last year, research from Fields in Trust revealed nearly 2.8 million people in the UK live more than 10 minutes’ walk from a public park, garden or playing field.  

The Guardian reported at the time that Fields in Trust, which protects and campaigns for public green spaces, found just four out of the 11 regions in Great Britain met its “six-acre standard” for green space provision. 

“Studies shows that time in nature can help older people sleep better, reduce anxiety, and improve cognitive function”

Though the government plan for everyone to engage with ‘restored nature’ seeks to win on environmental merit, the widespread impact of nature on national wellbeing cannot be ignored – especially for those in urban areas who may not have their own garden and rely on public spaces.  

view of London city buildings from Greenwich park on sunny spring dayCredit: Shutterstock / Pajor Pawel
Public green spaces are a lifeline for city residents

“It is so important that everyone can benefit from spending time in green, wildlife-rich spaces near where they live,” Dom Higgins, head of health and education at The Wildlife Trusts, told Saga Exceptional. 

“Studies show that time in nature can help older people sleep better, reduce anxiety, and improve cognitive function. Enjoying precious moments in wilder places also makes us feel happier. It is critical to reduce barriers that some older people face in getting outside.

When people more regularly engage with nature, it encourages positive emotions, increases levels of confidence and helps people to feel calm

“The government must also make good on recent commitments to scale up green social prescribing across the healthcare system. It must become a normalised solution for tackling issues like isolation and loneliness, and therefore helping people live happier and healthier lives.” 

Green spaces worth £34.2 billion per year

A report by Groundwork investigating equity in access to urban nature cited Fields in Trusts’ findings that the wellbeing value associated with frequent use of parks and green spaces is worth £34.2 billion per year to the entire UK adult population (i.e. an individual would need to be compensated by £974 a year to replace the life satisfaction they would have gained from using their local park or green space more than once per month). 

Grandfather playing with two children in the park with treesCredit: Shutterstock / stockimagesbank
Spending time outside can boost our wellbeing

This frequent use of parks and green spaces is also estimated to save the NHS £111 million per year, according to the same research, based solely on a reduction in GP visits (this is excluding any additional savings from prescribing or referrals).

The People and Nature Survey for England found that 94% of adults who had visited a green and natural space in the 14 days prior to being surveyed agreed that spending time outdoors was good for their physical health and 92% agreed it was also good for their mental health.

More walking opportunities are ‘a positive step’

According to Helen Heywood, who works on community engagement at Kingswood Trust (which runs projects from its nine-acre site in Wolverhampton, allowing people to engage with nature in more meaningful ways), it’s easy to disconnect from nature in a digital world. 

“Kingswood Trust has witnessed, first hand, the many benefits on health and wellbeing from being involved in outdoor activities and welcomes the government’s plans for green spaces,” she says.

Heywood points out that when people more regularly engage with nature, it encourages positive emotions, increases levels of confidence and helps people to feel calm.  

Such activities improve physical and mental health through exercise, joining in an outdoor activity and meeting others, which can also help to combat loneliness. These activities also support co-ordination and dexterity, she says.

Nearly half the UK has either a family member or friend with dementia, according to Heywood, and the numbers are growing.

“Nature Connections is a project at Kingswood Trust which helps to combat loneliness, improve health and wellbeing, and reconnect people with each other through a wide range of nature-based activities, both outdoors and indoors,” she says.

“These can include a guided walk, exploring natural growing areas, feeding animals and making nature-based crafts. For those less able bodied, both older people and their carers can spend time sitting together outdoors to observe nature close at hand through what they see, hear and smell.”

How you can help others access nature

People who are less mobile, or who don’t currently live near public green spaces (you can find your nearest park here), may already enjoy the benefits their own garden can bring and engage with nature regularly at home in this way. 

But what about people who don’t have gardens, or who cannot go outdoors to access nature?  

There are practical solutions, such as gardening indoors, which have just as much potential to support wellbeing in the same way.  

Grandmother sat at kitchen table with granddaughter planting flowersCredit: Shutterstock / Evgeny Atamanenko
There are plenty of ways to embrace nature if you don’t have a garden

For example, gardening charity Thrive surveyed 317 people who took part in tabletop gardening sessions. Some 80% felt their mental health improved from doing this type of activity.  

Thrive believes that gardens – whether that’s a windowsill, a lawn or a table top – can support our mental wellbeing in so many ways. Here are some tips to bring the outdoors in. From building confidence to boosting mood or feeling calm, gardens offer choice and creativity. 

Do you know someone without a garden, or access to outside green space? Perhaps you can help bring nature into their home by sharing some plants you’ve been growing in your own garden, make sure they receive some fruits or vegetables from your patch – or even invite them to come and help you cultivate the next crop 

Rosanna Spence

Written by Rosanna Spence she/her


Rosanna Spence has been a journalist for nearly 10 years, reporting on a huge array of topics – from microwaves to cocktails, sustainable buildings, the Caribbean islands and beyond. She’s interviewed chefs at the helm of Michelin-starred restaurants and chatted to countless CEOs about their businesses, as well as created travel guides for experienced travellers seeking life-changing adventures. Throughout her career, she has created content for Business Traveller,, Pub & Bar, BRITA, Dine Out and many more leading titles and brands.

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