Access to Nature – A new Forum in Gloucestershire

An important new forum from the Barnwood Trust and Gloucestershire Local Nature Partnership.

CCRI researcher Honor Mackley-Ward and PhD student Berglind Karlsdóttir recently attended a training forum organised by the Barnwood Trust which aimed to improve access to nature for disabled people, neurodivergent people, and people with mental health conditions. In this piece, Honor reflects on the course, some of the insights she learnt about and factors to consider in order to increase inclusivity for all in accessing nature.

(Featured image courtesy of Anna Rickards Art / Barnwood Trust)

Access to nature is unequal. Being in high quality green and blue spaces is beneficial to physical health and mental wellbeing, and accessible greenspaces are considered a valuable resource for reducing health inequalities and boosting public health resilience. In line with this, there is increasing policy attention to the benefits of nature connectedness for health and wellbeing.

However, not all people experience the same opportunities to engage with the natural environment. Around 1 in 4 people in the UK are disabled, and with an ageing population, this number continues to grow. Disabled people, neurodivergent people, and people with mental health conditions face increased barriers to accessing nature, and the health benefits that come with it.

At the request of several Gloucestershire-based green and blue space organisations, Gloucestershire charity and funding body the Barnwood Trust organised and facilitated a new training course and forum on improving access to nature for disabled people, neurodivergent people, and people with mental health conditions.

During the course, specialists in the field, including the Sensory Trust and the Activity Alliance, presented up-to-date research and first-hand experiences. They discussed key barriers to access, and practical actions that can be taken to improve them, including best practice for co-developing outdoor spaces so that accessibility is not an afterthought.

Honor engaging in a group activity (Courtesy of Barnwood Trust)

Clear communications was also a key theme. Ensuring maps, signage, websites, and leaflets are clearly written and descriptive enough allows people to make informed decisions about whether they will be comfortable and safe on a particular site or route. It was clear that many accessibility improvements serve multiple sectors of the community, and can create a more welcoming environment for many.

Overall, the Access to Nature course was enlightening and empowering. Held in six sessions over a year, the people involved formed strong connections, and what started as a course is now developing into a forum putting Gloucestershire at the forefront of improving access to nature nationally. Going forwards, staff at the CCRI will continue to engage with this network as it grows and develops, bringing our skills to it and this rapidly developing policy area. 

A video summarising the course is available on the Barnwood Trust YouTube channel.