During the long months of Covid 19 restrictions, many people have come to realise the real hidden value of the Middlewick Ranges (the “Wick”) in South Colchester: Having an uninterrupted view of the countryside in an urban setting, with magnificent sunsets and sunrises; flitting moths and butterflies; being able to breathe in the fresh air and explore the quiet areas for reflection. To run the paths, or to walk among the trees; cross the brook and hear the song of nightingales; watch hovering skylarks protecting their young; glimpse a fox or muntjac deer; hear the hooting of owls and see bats fluttering around in dusky evenings. Plus the pleasure of seeing people walking their dogs and the laughter of children; there is so much to mention and it is not something we should take for granted.
For the wellbeing of the residents of this area of Colchester, the Wick has been a vital resource during the lockdown restrictions of the pandemic and its “hidden value for the enhancement of all the residents of Colchester and our future generations is undeniable.
The “ hidden value” of our green spaces is often referred to as Natural Capital Accounting which calculates the economic functions of the land, known as ‘ecosystem services’. By understanding what an area of land is made up of, its quality, how it is managed, used and the functions it performs, we can better understand the economic value it provides to a local or wider area, businesses, communities and society. The Revaluing Parks and Green Spaces research, published last year, found that the “Wellbeing Value associated with the frequent use of local parks and green spaces, particularly our natural habitats, is worth £34.2 billion per year to the entire UK adult population. In addition, these spaces are estimated to save the NHS around £111 million per year based solely on a reduction in GP visits and excluding any additional savings from prescribing or referrals”.
The public is also aware that our green spaces are vital for addressing climate change, helping to reduce exposure to air pollution, mitigating excessive noise and reducing flood risks as well as boosting wildlife, animal and plant species and maintaining healthy functioning natural ecosystems.
Studies can be found all over Google evidencing that our green spaces improve our wellbeing, including mood disorders, depression, neurotic behaviours, anxiety, fatigue and stress-related issues, Our green spaces promote the vital need for recreation and physical activities, improves our sense of belonging, social contact and connectivity. It has been proven that those who have longer exposures to green space have greater mental health benefits. The 2020 UK Government Review states “that spending time in our parks, woodlands and rural land enhances the quality of life for both children and adults”;
It also highlighted that Local Authorities should be playing a vital role to provide good quality green space, protecting, improving and maintaining existing green spaces.
Recognising the natural beauty and hidden values of the middlewick has been enhanced by the restrictions in place due to the pandemic
The September 2020 report by Natural England underlined the importance of local green spaces to people, especially through the pandemic. Their People and Nature survey found that the vast majority of adults (89 per cent) agreed or strongly agreed that green and natural spaces should be good places for mental health and wellbeing, with 30 per cent reporting they have increased their visits to these areas, many for the first time finding what is on their doorsteps.
A survey by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) showed that 53% of people said they now appreciate local green spaces more than ever during the pandemic, with 63% saying that protecting and enhancing green spaces should be a higher priority when lockdown ends. Research commissioned by CPRE and the HomeOwners Alliance, and polled by YouGov as the lockdown started, shows that the majority of people (71%) of adults in England think their local green space, or nearby countryside, could be enhanced. The majority of these people would also like to see more wildlife (52%) and a greater variety of plant life (51%) in their local green space.
THE POSITIVE IMPACT OF NATURE
OUR SENSES CONNECT US TO OUR ENVIRONMENT
… In the Government Paper Biodiversity 2020: A Strategy for England’s Wildlife and Ecosystem services DEFRA states that the Government’s mission, for the next decade, is: “to halt overall biodiversity loss, support healthy well-functioning ecosystems and establish coherent ecological networks, with more and better places for nature for the benefit of wildlife and people”. They recognise “that Biodiversity provides a range of benefits to people, but these are often not taken into account in decision-making. This is often because biodiversity benefits are outside the market economy, meaning that they are unpriced and therefore too easily ignored in financial decisions”. It states that “actions are taken and decisions made now will have consequences far into the future for ecosystems, ecosystem services and human wellbeing. It is important that these are understood so that we can make the best possible choices for the present and future generations.”
The Mental Health Foundation and WWF partnership explain the reasons why time in nature, other than that which has been mentioned above, “are complex and often related to how our senses connect us to the environment around us, from the shapes in nature we see to the scents that trees give off and the soft fascination that nature can stimulate which helps our minds rest”. Nature is often also our inspiration for creativity be it through painting, drawing, photography or writing.
Nature is for everyone. It is essential that everyone can access nature.
The ”hidden value” of our Wick and other green spaces, forests, country parks and natural areas appear to be ignored, being superseded by development despite all the evidence that supports maintaining natural areas including our own Government’s reports and promises backed up Public Health (see “Improving Access to Greenspace; A New Review for 2020” ). Are we surprised by this, particularly considering this “hidden value”? It is worrying to think that In 2015 the Fields in Trusts survey found that one in six people reported that their green spaces were at risk of being lost and built on, what is this figure for 2021?
The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) has revealed the amount of farmland, forests, gardens and greenfield land lost to housing development each year has increased by 58% over a four year period. The annual Green Space Index, published by Fields in Trust, shows 2.7 million already live more than a ten-minute walk from their local green spaces. It estimates this will increase by 5% in the next five years, with green space provision falling by 7.6% per person by 2040.
We all recognise the need for housing for our increasing population, including the quotas that have been set for Local Authorities by the Government, however, often recommendations to seek available brown sites for developments are overlooked in favour of green sites where the land is more valuable and less remediation of the land is undertaken.
Many people are at a loss as to why our Government have: made so many recommendations and promises with regards to our green spaces, yet have made changes to legislation to make it easier to develop this land; have reduced Natural England’s staff capacity to the bare minimum so it’s harder to contact them and appeal with regards to green spaces proposed for development and have changed their criteria as to what can happen to these areas in favour of the developer on the instruction of the Government. By doing this they have made it so hard for Local Authorities to stand up to developers, resulting in them often having to go to court and having their appeals turned down by the Inspectorate. This has made making it difficult for councils not to put green areas into Local Plans when if it becomes available and having to increasing housing quotas which are not viable. We also note that; also brown sites are not being fully utilised for housing and that, finally, why the public seem to have no voice on these issues!? It is so sad for our democracy that so many people feel helpless not knowing where to turn in the face of so much development and the barriers put in place to be able to prevent, giving up at the first hurdles.
The “Save Middlewick Ranges” group members, in partnership with other campaigning Colchester groups, are committed to fighting against the sale and development of the Wick. This is a vital natural area of South Colchester which needs to be preserved for the wellbeing of its residents and future generations. The campaign is complex, like campaigning and involving; working with the Local Authority to providing evidence of why this development should not go ahead; be accepted; appealing to the Inspectorate who will approve the Colchester Local Plan to; communicating with, the MOD who is putting the land up for sale and, when we have more information, the developer and planning department permission when presented.
The team would be grateful to receive stories on how the Wick has improved your mental health and what it the area means to you, The online social media campaign has started and we hope that you will join and support us in this fight in any way you can.