Nine years ago, I reignited my childhood passion for nature. I started spending time at local nature reserves in my home county of Shropshire, polishing my identification skills, taking photographs and meeting other wildlife enthusiasts.
However, I always felt I was missing out when specialist activities, such as mammal workshops, were hosted at reserves that were futher afield, because I couldn’t get to them. I have mild cerebral palsy, dyspraxia and epilepsy, so I don’t drive.
It got me thinking about how people with disabilities – whether physical or learning – just don’t have the same access to the countryside.
Fight for access
I’ve spent the past five years speaking out about the issue through my campaign, All for Nature & Nature for All, and working with local charities on how to improve access both to green spaces and to conservation.
I have had many interesting discussions about accessibility, but there has always been a common thread. The conversation will start by considering access for those with physical disabilities; learning disabilities are rarely mentioned.
In 2011, research by Defra and the Environment Agency showed that people with learning disabilities are in the minority of visitors to the countryside. In 2016, Mencap revealed that one in three adults between the ages of 18-35 with a learning disability spends less than one hour a day outside.
Given what we now know about the benefits of time spent in nature, these statistics are shocking. And even more so when you consider that, according to mental health charity Mind, people with a learning disability are more likely to experience mental health problems than the rest of the general population.