All Party Parliamentary Group for National Parks – Access for All

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All Party Parliamentary Group

In recent years, the APPG for National Parks has covered important topics such as climate leadership, and the role that National Parks can play in delivering health and well-being benefits, as well as nature recovery.

The most recent session took a wider view, backed up by some high-level facts and figures, the meeting reminded us why National Parks were designated as some of our most precious landscapes, and it highlighted the huge potential of National Park Authorities, their partners and supporters to play a central role in delivering the ambitions in the Environmental Improvement Plan.

It explained why National Parks can lead the way on driving forward nature recovery, tackling climate change, and enhancing people’s lives through accessing these special places. It also provided an opportunity to highlight how changes to the Levelling Up & Regeneration Bill could help make this potential a reality, with updated powers and duties for National Parks and AONB’s.

After an introduction from Andrew McCloy, chair of National Parks England the group heard from Minister Trudy Harrison. Richard Benwell, Chief Executive of Wildlife and Countryside Link shared his thoughts on National Parks taking the lead on Nature Recovery, their role in delivering the Government’s nature recovery ambitions – and their huge potential for contributing to 30×30, putting questions to the Minister about amendments to the current bill.

New Perspectives

I was invited to share my thoughts at the APPG on the benefits that National Parks offer for health and well-being and their role in providing welcoming and accessible spaces – for everyone to enjoy. I was invited to speak at the APPG following on from my Access for All project with Campaign for National Parks as one of the 2021/22 New Perspectives Bursary Winners. My project involved telling the story of access within the Lake District National Park and the barriers to accessing nature can be broken down for those with disabilities.

My Story

So who am I? What lived experience do I have to be talking about this at Parliament?

I was very fortunate to grow up on the outskirts of the Lake District National Park with parents who were outdoorsy and adventurous, although I wasn’t keen on big days in the hills always moaning about my feet hurting and asking when we’d fine the ice cream van. I was part of Brownies, Cubs and Scouts as I grew up, where I learnt many outdoor skills such as navigation and survival skills. Through Scouts and my secondary school I completed my Bronze, Silver and Gold Duke of Edinburgh Awards, completing training hikes and expeditions around the world from Canada to Belgium, I was lucky to gain a breadth of experiences in the outdoors through whilst growing up. We holidayed as a family in National Parks and I completed work experience and student placements at the Lake District National Park and Northumberland National Park, gaining deeper understanding how those who live and work in the Parks share the space with visitors and the large volume of tourists each year.


At University I continued developing my knowledge and skills of the outdoors completing internships and placements with the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and a residential internship with the RSPB on Islay. I increased my knowledge of the countryside through my academic studies at Newcastle University with a degree I Countryside Management. Alongside my studies I worked full time as a support worker for children and adults with disabilities as well as working in palliative care.

Whilst at University I experienced my own mental health issues, after a traumatic event I was diagnosed with PTSD, anxiety and depression and found myself going from an outgoing confident person so a couch potato feeling intimidated by going outdoors. The outdoors was a huge part of my recovery and I found great solace in the Lake District fells as I began fell walking with family to rebuild my mental and physical health.

 Charlotte Collage

I am now working hard to advocate access for all in the outdoors using my personal experiences to help others discover the power of green and blue spaces for our wellbeing. Having volunteered at the Lake District Calvert Trust for 13 years I am now a qualified horse riding and carriage driving coach and volunteer at least once a week helping people with a range of disabilities experience the Lake District in a safe and supportive way. I have also qualified as a Hill and Moorland Leader and I’m working towards my Mountain Leader award to facilitate me to take others out to enable people of all backgrounds and abilities to enjoy the outdoors. The National Parks have played a huge part in my vocation from working as a chainsaw operator on the outskirts of the Peak District for the RSPB to path improvements in Northumberland, the Parks gave me my first taste of Rights of Way work which I have now established a successful career in.

Connection with Nature

The National Parks provide spaces in the outdoors where we can create and nurture a connection with nature that benefits our mental and physical health. The National Academy of Social Prescribing and University College London have undertaken in depth research into the connection with nature finding the benefits you can see here. Implications of the evidence reviews carried out as part of this research found that access to natural environments should be equal for all. Policy should focus on providing access for audiences who cannot easily access natural outdoor spaces by addressing restrictions and creating high quality and accessible green spaces. We need a personal connection with nature, forged from early years and maintained as part of our daily lives, in order to care; we need to reconnect with our National Parks.


England and Wales: Roughly 188,300 kilometres of public rights of way in England and Wales and the right to roam over only 8% of the countryside and 3% of rivers, access to these green and blue spaces is limited in itself for most of the population before we even think about additional barriers to these spaces. There are 204 routes specified as suitable for those with access challenges within the National Parks, this is a great step in the right direction but needs to be developed further and encompass the needs of all users.

Inequalities to access

The above image shows the Combined Greenspace and Public Rights of Way Inequalities, we should see turquoise colouring showing the most favourable scenario around the national parks, but this isn’t the case at the moment.

According to the government there are 14.6 million disabled people in Great Britain. This equates to over 20% of the total population who are registered as disabled (this does not include people with disabilities who are not formally recognised as disabled). According to Natural England over 20% of England’s population cannot currently use public rights of way due to mobility issues. This means our limited access to the outdoors is constrained even further for those with disabilities. How often do you see dedicated mobility friendly routes when your out in countryside like this one here?

Access for all

When we look to improve access, we need to have all users included, horse riding and carriage driving provide access to outdoors for disabled people and women, horse riders only have access to 22% of England and Wales’s rights of way network and carriage drivers only 5%. The focus should be on improving access to existing areas of National Parks and making more areas of National Parks open access.

Solutions to provide access for all

The solutions to the inequalities to access include new legislation, better policies, more investment and extending the areas of National Parks currently accessible to the public.

NEW legislation: Amending the purposes of National Parks so they give proper emphasis on people’s access to nature and recreation.

BETTER policies: Greater support and incentives for farmers and land managers to improve access on and around their land. The current ELMS proposals don’t provide public goods for public money with respect to access, we need to see incentives for definitive rights of way within the National Parks.

MORE investment: Public health initiatives that offer more opportunities for people of all backgrounds to secure health and wellbeing benefits by visiting National Parks. Also more public transport networks to allow people without cars to visit.

EXTEND the accessible areas: We want to see an extension of the right to roam, reforming the current legislative definition of ‘open access land’ to include woodlands and waterways.