“Time spent in nature is never wasted” wrote the author Katrina Mayer. Spending time outdoors has many proven benefits to both our physical and mental health while also encouraging an appreciation for nature. If we have any hope of restoring and protecting our ecosystems, we must understand and value them, and inspire a new generation to do the same. However, as a greater proportion of people live in urban areas, nature becomes less accessible for many. Today, 55% of the world’s population live in urban areas, and this is expected to rise to 68% by 2050.
As a seaside county, with the South Downs National Park, the South Downs Way, and three Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, it is easy to assume that we are in an area of the country where access to nature is not a problem. Adur and Worthing Councils are working in a variety of ways towards nature recovery, including through the steering group of the Sussex Kelp Recovery Project and their partnership with Weald to Waves. However, they reported in their Open Space, Sports and Recreation Study (2019) that 38% of the population visit the beach less than once a month, and 13% had never been to the beach. The opportunities for people to access nature are highly variable. While some areas of the county have over 45% of land area accessible to the public, in many areas, particularly in the towns along Sussex’s urban coastline, this number falls to less than 1% (see map).
As towns and cities grow, urban habitats become increasingly important for many species. Everyone that manages or has responsibility for natural spaces in our coastal towns needs to encourage more opportunities to experience, understand and appreciate nature, and help address inequalities in our ability to access nature. If we are all given the chance to connect with nature, more of us will begin to see why we so desperately need connectivity in our landscapes.
Photo credit: West Worthing beach, Sussex by Christine Matthews, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons