Guiding principle 6: Enabling access, fitness and contact with nature

Ensure that people are able to gain key health and quality of life benefits from green infrastructure by protecting, managing and planning green infrastructure in Devon to:

  • ensure everyone has access to open green spaces and woodland where people live, in accordance with common standards
  • protect and enhance Devon’s high-quality public rights of way and cycle network
  • assist in managing air pollution and reducing carbon emissions

The benefits of accessing Devon’s green infrastructure for physical and mental health, for learning and cultural engagement, and for building life skills should be promoted. We will encourage more people to use Devon’s network of green spaces and routes.

Why this is important for Devon and beyond

In short, access to well-planned and managed green infrastructure helps to reduce the incidence of disease and pressure on the public health system. This is supported by evidence from the Sustainable Development Commission about the health benefits that stem from people being able to access the natural environment and a report from the Chief Medical Officer which recognises the multiple benefits that physical activity has for overcoming health issues.

Large areas of accessible open space and woodland, that are within a reasonable distance of where people live offer opportunities to explore and experience the natural environment. The evidence sources above suggest that people living in areas with high levels of greenery are more likely to be physically active and 40% less likely to be overweight; and that those living furthest from parks and green spaces are 27% more likely to be overweight. Also, further research shows that access to natural environments can deliver a range of benefits for those that suffer from mental health issues.

Planting and urban vegetation (which can be public and privately owned) has been shown to reduce the impacts of hot weather, specifically by having a cooling effect. According to research, in 2003, a summer heatwave claimed approximately 35,000 lives across Europe. With the impacts of climate change likely to make for hotter summers in the future, urban planting is likely to play a key role in helping to reduce the impact of climate change on public health. Furthermore, as with nearly all green infrastructure assets, trees are multifunctional, and as well as providing shelter, habitat and a pleasant environment, they can also be used to clean the atmosphere. Improvements in air quality in urban environments benefit the people living and working in them, which has knock-on benefits for the health service.

Strategic priorities and approaches for working together across Devon

6.1: Use Natural England’s Accessible Natural Greenspace standards (ANGSt) and The Woodland Trust’s Accessible Woodland standards to identify those areas where there is insufficient open space and woodland to meet the needs of the population. Where deficiencies exist, policies and projects should be implemented to address this and where new development is built, a suitable standard of open space should be a part of this. A link to Devon-wide mapping of Accessible Natural Greenspace and Accessible Woodland is available in the tools and case studies section below.

6.2: The Devon Public Rights of Way Improvement Plan sets out the policies and priorities for Devon’s Public Rights of Way network. Devon County Council and local communities will work together to ensure that the Rights of Way network is properly managed and opportunities to expand it, where possible, are pursued. Rights of Way need to deliver for as many people as possible, and so access for all users, including wheelchair users, horse riders, and cyclists should be provided wherever practicable – routes also need to be designed to minimise conflict between different users.

6.3: Communities and individuals, particularly landowners, have an important role to play in the maintenance of Public Rights of Way. Those wishing to provide new public rights of way can also do this by utilising Devon County Council’s Public Rights of Way Community Paths Toolkit.

6.4: Policies in local and neighbourhood plans and local authorities should promote street planting as a key part of the developed urban form, providing habitat, shelter, shade and air-cleansing services.

6.5: Promote opportunities for play, education and skills-building in natural settings, through supporting local groups and featuring such topics in school curricula.

6.6: Learn from case studies of how working together results not only in improvements in health and wellbeing but also other benefits.

  • Your role

    Find out how you can get involved in the delivery of this guiding principle, whether you are an interested individual or community group or, a landowner or a public authority

    Local authorities

    Policy Planners: When preparing local plans, policies should take account of accessible natural greenspace in the district. Deficiencies should be addressed through planning policies and decisions.

    Public sector landowners and land managers: authorities should investigate how open spaces could be made accessible to the public, particularly in areas where there is a deficiency against appropriate standards.

    Landowners, developers and design professionals

    Landowners: landowners of woodlands and open spaces could investigate how these could be made accessible to the public, particularly in areas where there is a deficiency against appropriate standards.

    Developers and designers: ensure that high quality accessible green spaces form an integral part of new development projects, providing high-quality walking and cycling routes, and using attractive landscaping and planting to provide attractive public realm within developments.

    Communities and individuals

    Neighbourhood planning bodies: prepare policies and plans through the neighbourhood planning process to ensure that green infrastructure is promoted in your local area, specifically providing for recreation and leisure uses.

    Communities: utilise the community toolkit included in the table below to provide new paths and trails in your area.

Tools and case studies to help you

Online mapping

See the Green Infrastructure in your area pages to find out about accessible areas in Devon.

Accessible Natural Greenspace Standards from Natural England

Natural England has set out standards for how much greenspace people should be able to access, and how easily they should be able to access them. The standards state that everyone should be within 10km of an area of 500Ha or more, 5km of an area of 100Ha or more, 2km of an area of 20Ha or more and within 2km of an area 2Ha in size. Devon County Council has undertaken an assessment of the various levels of accessible natural greenspace for the 500Ha, 100Ha and 20Ha areas.

Woodland Access Standards from The Woodland Trust

The Woodland Trust have produced access standards for woodland. These are that no person should live more than 500m from at least one area of accessible woodland of no less than 2ha in size and that there should also be at least one area of accessible woodland of no less than 20ha within 4km (8km round trip) of people’s homes. Devon County Council has undertaken an assessment of the areas of accessible woodland in Devon, see our evidence pages.

Public Rights of Way Community Paths Toolkit

We have produced a toolkit for local communities and interest groups, to help them construct public rights of way under their own initiative.

Design Guide for Trees

A recent report by the Trees and Design Action Group provides comprehensive guidance on how and why we should make space for trees in towns as part of a local green infrastructure system, highlighting the multiple benefits trees can have, including their contribution to our health and wellbeing.

Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment (MENE): The national survey on people and the natural environment

This survey identifies national trends in how many people frequently access nature, the reasons for doing so and the barriers that prevent them from doing so.