Updated: Nov 15, 2021
There is an increasing body of evidence to show that being outdoors has positive impacts our health and wellbeing. Connecting with nature reduces stress and mental fatigue and fights depression and anxiety. It is thought that a coastal walking helps you sleep better and that time spent walking amongst trees can reduce blood pressure. There is also evidence to indicate that people who report feeling more ‘connected to nature’ tend to have a more positive outlook on life.
The natural environment offers positive benefits for everyone and everyone should have access to those benefits no matter their needs.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) suggests that green space should be used to as a tool in improving health and wellbeing and to reduce the need for direct, more costly interventions
In the 2020 Government review ‘Improving Access to Greenspace’ data from The Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment (MENE) indicates that adults who had 2 hours of recreational activity per week in greenspace are more likely to have better self-reported health and wellbeing than those who do not.
Natural England has estimated that £2.1 billion per year could be saved in health costs if everyone in England had good access to green space. Certainly there is good evidence to show that getting people involved in nature and outdoor activities is good for both health and wellbeing. There is a move forward to encourage doctors to enhance their practice of ‘Social prescribing’ which has shown to have positive results for a wide range of people, including people living with disabilities and long term illness. Doctors are prescribing the new vitamin – vitamin N (for Nature) and encouraging people to spend time outdoors.
Disabled persons participate in outdoor adventure activities not only for their therapeutic benefits but for the same reasons as do able bodied people – for enjoyment, a love of nature and to achieve personal goals
Seventy years after the Act of Parliament that created the first National Parks, a major review, led by writer Julian Glover, has called for bold action to ‘reignite the founding spirit’ of our great National Park movement in order to make them greener, more beautiful and open to everyone.
In the report, published September 2019, Mr Glover writes about “the need for improved accessibility for visitors with disabilities to our Parks and AONBs.”
“The Policy Lab work and meetings with groups representing disabled visitors showed us the huge appetite those faced with physical disabilities have for getting out into nature,” wrote Mr Glover.
However, all this said there are many obstacles that stand in the way of accessing the countryside for someone living with mobility disabilities. There are many barriers to face when creating a countryside for all – one of the biggest being the cost of the all terrain wheelchairs.
An all terrain mobility scooter is normally a second wheelchair for someone with mobility issues.
I’m fortunate to have two different chairs and a power wheel attachment, making it three modes of travel. – I call them my shoes.
My manual wheelchair is my everyday, old faithful – it’s like wearing a pair of slippers. I don’t know that I’m wearing it, but I couldn’t be without them! I whizz all over in this chair.
I have an attachment for the front of this chair which turns it into a powered three wheel electric bike. This I call my trainers, perfect for when I want a bit of speed and adrenaline and it is ideal for country lanes and tow paths.
My third is my all-terrain 4x4 wheelchair – my four seasons hiking boot, perfect for my mountain adventures.
But these chairs are expensive and not everybody can afford to have two different types of wheelchair. However could some of that £2.1 billion saving, to develop the infrastructure to support accessibility?
There is a great scheme here in the south of England called Countryside Mobility, where there are over 50 places where mobility scooters are available for hire.
Many of the National Trust gardens and estates have scooters for people to borrow – again this opens up the grounds of stately homes and gardens and encourages people to get outside and explore.
There are other locations around the UK where wheelchairs are available to hire, such as the mobility scooters at Whinlatter in the Lake District and at Parsley Hay in the Peak District and in time.
Hoe Grange Holiday Cottages in the Peak District also have two all terrain available to borrow enabling access to a wonderful walk along the High peak Trail.
In time I will collate a comprehensive list of locations where all terrain wheelchairs are available.
But for now I leave this thought with you, is access to the countryside only available to those who can afford? Is accessibility a rich man's gain?