Our general secretary Kate Ashbrook considers life for the Open Spaces Society during lockdown.
As lockdown began, I foolishly thought we would have time to catch up with all those long-deferred jobs. I was wrong: we have been busier than ever.
Developers are not deterred by a pandemic: open spaces remain at risk, perhaps more so under cover of lockdown.
Some landowners have unilaterally and illegally closed paths, claiming risk of covid-19. However, in Wales, shoddily worded regulations have given some legitimacy to these unlawful practices with apparent encouragement from local authorities.
We have pursued transgressions, pointing out that there is no evidence that residents of properties next to paths are at any particular risk from the virus, and no more than people living next to a road.
We appreciate that some occupiers are genuinely frightened because a path passes close to a property, and we urge path users to be considerate.
Lockdown has shown the immense importance of paths and open spaces to our health and well-being. People have discovered places for recreation on their doorsteps. Fortunately, the Westminster and Welsh governments are encouraging us to venture outdoors, recognising the benefits of doing so.
Let us hope that, when we have greater freedom again, there will be an army of campaigners to defend their local spaces and paths. But we shall also be faced with unprecedented austerity, and local authorities will have to prioritise brutally.
The pandemic has put a spotlight on the inequalities in society. It has also revealed the inequality of open space provision. There is no statutory requirement to provide open space, no national standards for the amount of green space that should be provided, and no ring-fenced funding to secure its protection and management. Consequently, the poorer communities who need it most have less open space and what they have is of inferior quality.
Our clear message to governments is to give ring-fenced funding to public open spaces and to place a statutory duty on authorities to provide and manage them. In the scheme of things, relatively small sums can make a big difference.
Thanks to lockdown, on a global scale, there has been a reduction in carbon emissions—less pollution, clearer skies, quieter roads and the return of nature. With 56 organisations we wrote to the prime minister, arguing that the health of humanity is inextricably bound to the health of our planet, and calling on government, among other things, to increase space for wildlife and people.
We shall continue to campaign for spaces and paths on people’s doorsteps, where they are needed more than ever.