Yet from my work running a conservation travel company, I know that spending time in nature can help us to develop a deeper appreciation for the natural world, and the need for its conservation.
A study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology found that those who visit natural spaces weekly are more likely to engage in more environmentally-friendly practices.
As the scientist Robert Pyle famously put it: “People who care conserve; people who don’t know don’t care. What is the extinction of the condor to a child who has never known the wren?”
Across the world, many other countries encourage free roaming. Across various Scandinavian countries, the ‘Allemensratten’ law, translated directly as ‘All-Man’s right’, allows citizens to freely access natural areas.
Sweden provides one such example. While the custom dates from medieval times, the law was passed into parliament in 1974, and enshrined in the Swedish constitution in 1994. Authorities can even force landowners to remove any fence in place which has the sole purpose of obstructing public access to a recreation area.
In neighbouring Scotland, law is set out in Section 1 of the Land Reform Act 2003 everyone has the right to be on land for recreational purposes and to cross land for such purposes. This is colloquially known as the ‘right to roam’.
The same cannot be said for England, where ancient laws exclude the public from accessing the wealth of meadows, woodlands, rivers and forests. Indeed, getting caught wild-camping in England or Wales could see you lumped with a £2,500 fine.
There have been attempts to instill the freedom-to-roam law in the UK before. At the end of the Second World War, the Attlee government attempted to implement the Freedom to Roam law into law as a corollary of the NHS, an act that the land-owning House of Lords suggested was a step too far.
Today, the NHS is at breaking point, and Britain has lost almost half of its biodiversity since 1970. Time in nature serves our physical and mental health, and helps us to protect the natural world around us.
Given the boosted post-Covid public appetite for more time in nature, it’s time that the British government realized Attlee’s initial vision, and allowed Brits to roam freely in the country they call home.
As per the most recent ‘peace-pact’ with nature at the biodiversity focussed COP 15, perhaps it’s time that the British government allowed English and Welsh hikers to fully appreciate the beautiful and diverse ecosystem that they have around them.
Enjoyment leads to education, and that is the first step to preservation. To protect the great English and Welsh countryside, people must be allowed to enjoy it first.
Daniel Kaul is the founder of Natucate, an agency specialised in the organisation of selected projects for nature travel, wilderness experiences, voluntary work, internships and sabbaticals.