Preparing to search
There are rights of access to the natural environment and greenspaces throughout Britain that enable people to use and enjoy them. In urban areas, many greenspaces have open access or rights of public access. Some areas where access is currently limited, such as some brownfield sites, may be reclaimed and become greenspace that can be accessed and enjoyed by local communities.
The table clarifies the different ways in which access to woodland and greenspace can be understood. In promoting a wider concept of the use of greenspace for well-being, this approach goes beyond physical access to sites.
|Level 0: Virtual access||The subject is distant from an actual greenspace or woodland, and can access only a virtual or mental image (a TV programme, a picture or a memory)|
|Level 1: A view||Access to a view requires proximity to greenspace or woodland, but does not require a person to be ‘in’ the landscape (might include driving or walking past a greenspace, or the view from a window)|
|Level 2: Using and being in greenspace||Access afforded by using, being in, or passing through a greenspace or woodland environment (walking, picnicking, cycling, running, playing sport, etc.)|
|Level 3: Active, hands-on engagement||Being physically engaged in working with or within a greenspace or woodland (volunteer work, practical action)|
|Level 4: Ownership and/or management||Being in a position of responsibility, able to determine or contribute to decision-making about the future management of the greenspace or woodland|
Source: adapted from Weldon et al. (2007).
Having a right of access to urban greenspace does not necessarily mean that people will use and enjoy these places. Issues of accessibility – whether people feel they have both the ability and the means to visit and enjoy these spaces – are a significant topic for consideration.
In terms of access, the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 provides for public access on foot to scheduled land (generally unenclosed land that may include woodland) in England and Wales. In Scotland, the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 establishes a statutory public right of responsible access to land, including woods and forests, and to paths that cross access land. All the public forest estate managed by the Forestry Commission is open to the public.
A right of way is a route along which the public have a right of passage. In England and Wales, highway authorities have a duty to maintain legally recognised maps of rights of way. In Scotland, rights of way are recorded at national level by the National Catalogue of Rights of Way. Access to urban parks and woods is generally open to all.
Although people may have access to urban greenspace in theory, a range of barriers may prevent them from feeling able to visit these spaces, including the following.
The Urban Parks Forum in 2001 reported that urban parks in the UK were in serious decline, and that people in disadvantaged areas were more likely to be losing out. The English House Condition Survey (ODPM, 2003) shows that public space in deprived areas, particularly those dominated by social housing, is worse than in affluent areas.
In recent years the value of urban greenspace has risen up the political agenda. The RCEP (2007) report on The Urban Environment highlights the importance of urban greenspace and green infrastructure. The Environment and Social Justice Review (Lucas et al., 2004) argues that the quality of urban greenspaces acts as a powerful indicator of whether an area is a good place to live. The Park Life Report (2007) found that 92% of respondents stated that they visit parks and greenspaces in the UK, and 55% visit a large park once a month; 97% believe that parks and greenspaces help to create a nice place to live. This and other research highlights the importance of access to greenspaces for people’s overall well-being. Research has identified the following ways in which accessibility issues can be addressed:
Public authorities need to comply with legislation in the field of equality and diversity. The new legislation means that a passive ‘greenspace for all’ approach is no longer sufficient. Instead, responsible agencies must actively promote diversity and inclusion. The responsibilities and expertise required to respond to the new legislation need to be tackled strategically, at all levels of an organisation. A generic equality scheme covering race, disability and gender is a good way of implementing the requirements. If there are shown to be differential impacts on relevant social groups, the organisation should act to promote greater equality.
The following standards have been devised on access to greenspace and woodland. They are not statutory at present, but may act as a guide and discussion point regarding physical access.
The Woodland Access Standard is an aspirational benchmark created by the Woodland Trust in 2004 and supported by the Forestry Commission, focusing on towns and cities. The aspirations of the Standard are that:
The Accessible Natural Greenspace Standard was devised by Natural England and the Countryside Council for Wales, and states that:
Forest Research’s Social and Economic Research Group ran a seminar in 2004 on ‘Accessibility of woodlands and natural spaces’, with a focus on addressing crime and safety issues. Attendees included police officers, local authority personnel, and representatives from NGOs, academia and government organisations. A range of speakers discussed issues such as how to prevent crime through environmental design; the role of the media in creating fear of risk; managing access safely; and creating a strategy for increasing public access to woodlands. A series of workshops at the seminar focused on different aspects of access:
From discussions at the workshops, there was consensus on key issues for tackling some of the crime and safety problems outlined at the event.
This research project was undertaken by independent consultants in collaboration with Forest Research in 2007. The overall aims of the research were to:
A qualitative action research approach was undertaken in five case studies in Scotland, three of which were in urban areas. The focus of the research was working with groups who were under-represented in woodland use, to discuss barriers to accessing woods for well-being.
The key barriers identified were:
Overall, the research discovered that barriers to access are less about the single issues identified above, and more to do with wider factors. For example, the findings indicate that the complex interplay of factors, local contingencies and life stage are equally if not more important in determining who will use a particular woodland or greenspace and for what purpose. The research recommended that a proactive approach is needed in order to reach out to under-represented groups and to widen access to woodlands and greenspaces. This approach would need to include:
In the past few years, Forest Research has developed expertise in socio-economic research. The Social and Economic Research Group now includes economists, an anthropologist, a political scientist, a human ecologist, a geographer and environmental sociologists. One of the key research themes of the group is community diversity and development, and our research will provide greater understanding of who is currently excluded due to social, economic, psychological, cultural and/or physical factors.
The Social and Economic Research Group provides advice to the Forestry Commission and the forestry or greenspace sector on social and economic issues related to woodlands and greenspaces.
The Social and Economic Research Group can provide:
Monitoring and evaluation of projects and initiatives is crucially important in trying to understand the impact of interventions on a range of people. The Social and Economic Research Group is involved in developing usable monitoring and evaluation frameworks for the Forestry Commission, and as researchers in a number of European projects. This work will identify users and non-users of greenspace, and explore any barriers to use and enjoyment of these spaces.
Burgess, J. (1995). Growing in Confidence: understanding people’s perceptions of urban fringe woodlands. Countryside Commission, Cheltenham.
CABE Space (2005). Decent parks? Decent behaviour? The link between the quality of parks and user behaviour. CABE Space, London.
GreenSpace (2007). The Park Life Report: the first ever public satisfaction survey of Britain’s parks and greenspaces (PDF-39K). GreenSpace, London.
Lucas, K., Walker, G., Eames, M., Fay, H. and Poustie, M. (2004). Environment and Social Justice: Rapid Research and Evidence Review (PDF-870K). Sustainable Development Research Network Report No. 1. Policy Studies Institute, London.
O’Brien, E. (2005). Tackling youth disaffection through woodland vocational training. Quarterly Journal of Forestry 99, 125-130.
O’Brien, E. (2005). Bringing together ideas of social enterprise, education and community woodland: the Hill Holt Wood approach. Scottish Forestry 59, 7-14.
O’Brien, E. and Tabbush, P. (2005). Accessibility of Woodlands and Natural Spaces: addressing crime and safety issues. Forest Research, Farnham.
O’Brien, E. and Weldon, S. (2007). A place where the needs of every child matters: factors affecting the use of greenspace and woodlands for children and young people. Countryside Recreation Journal 15, 6-9.
O’Brien, E., Foot, K. and Doick, K. (2007). Evaluating the benefits of community greenspace creation on brownfield land. Quarterly Journal of Forestry 101, 145-151.
ODPM (2003). English House Condition Survey 2003 (PDF-1030K). Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, London.
RCEP (2007). The Urban Environment (PDF-837K). Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, London.
Travlou, P. and Roe, J. (2007). ‘Collation and Review of Guidance, Tools and Case Studies of Good Practice.’ Unpublished report for Forest Research by OPENspace Research Centre, Edinburgh.
Urban Parks Forum (2001). Public Park Assessment: a survey of local authority owned parks, focusing on parks of historic interest. Urban Parks Forum, London.
Ward Thompson, C., Aspinall, P., Bell, S., Findlay, C., Wherrett, J. and Travlou, P. (2004). Open Space and Social Inclusion: Local Woodland Use in Central Scotland (PDF-1300K). Forestry Commission, Edinburgh.
Weldon, S., Bailey, C. and O’Brien, L. (2007). New Pathways for Health and Well-being in Scotland: research to understand and overcome barriers to accessing woodlands. Report to Forestry Commission Scotland.