The government’s adviser on the natural environment has pledged to drive forward work to remove the barriers preventing disabled people from enjoying England’s parks, nature reserves and other green spaces.
Natural England made the pledge as it published a new report that showed how different groups vary in their enjoyment of the natural environment.
Natural England’s report, part of its Outdoors for All programme, looks at data from 2009-12 on how five different social groups, including people with physical impairments and mental health conditions, “engage” with England’s natural environment.
It found that disabled people visited the natural environment on average 56 times a year, compared with 65 visits a year by the “average” person, although nearly one in five disabled people “normally never” visit the natural environment.
The figure was higher than the average number of visits by the “urban deprived” population (40 visits) and people from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities (27 visits per year).
More than half of the visits by disabled people (57 per cent) were to walk a dog (compared with 46 per cent for the general population), and nearly two-fifths (38 per cent) were for personal health and exercise.
For those disabled people who visited less than once a month, poor health was the most frequent reason (42 per cent), but only three per cent blamed lack of access to a car.
The analysis also found that disabled people were more likely than the rest of the population to be concerned about the natural environment and to value the existence of natural places, including those they may never even visit.
Jim Burt, principal adviser for Natural England, said: “Our ambition is to make sure there are not any barriers preventing people from accessing the natural environment if they choose to.”
He pointed to work by Natural England to make information more easily accessible, and to remove physical barriers in the natural spaces it manages.
He said: “We have been investing in both of those aspects for the last five or so years. They are being addressed and will continue to be addressed.
“I suspect the standards of provision across our sites and generally across the sector probably remain a little patchy, and there is always room for improvement. The important thing is that we continue to drive that improvement.”
And he said that younger disabled people – those under 35 – were actually visiting the natural environment more often, on average, than the general population.
The research will be used to inform policy across government, and was based on about 142,000 interviews carried out for a survey commissioned by Natural England, the Forestry Commission and the government.