There has been a good deal of coverage recently of the Government’s plans to measure national happiness and well-being alongside GDP. The consultation, led by ONS closed at the end of last week and Government is now deliberating on what measures should be adopted.
The Woodland Trust has responded and we believe that there is a strong story to tell in terms of the role of trees and woods. In fact we’re calling on Government to adopt national tree cover and our Woodland Access Standard as key measures.
Public health is one of the biggest challenges facing modern society and is heavily bound up with happiness and well-being. Easily accessible woods close to where people live provide measurable benefits in terms of:
- encouraging people to take exercise
- helping reduce the mental stresses of modern society
- improving air quality
- reducing respiratory diseases
Each of the above benefits makes a positive contribution to people’s quality of life. With 80% of people living in urban areas but less than 10% of the population having access to local woodland within 500m of their home, its essential for well-being that Government sets targets for woodland creation that meet the need for trees and woods near where people live.
Trees have been found to enhance mood, improve self-esteem and lower blood pressure. Research in the Netherlands and Japan for example indicated that people were more likely to walk or cycle if the streets were lined with trees and live longer and feel better as a result.
Woodland cover in the UK is amongst the lowest in Europe at less than 12%. In England this is less than 8%. At the last election all parties identified a need to increase tree cover in their manifestos. Given the evidence above, we believe that levels of tree cover should be one of the key measures of national well-being.
Additionally, given the substantial evidence that access to woodland makes people feel better, we believe that the availability of woodland access should also be adopted as a well-being measure. This can be measured through the Woodland Access Standard – something we’ve developed through our Space for People project, based on wide ranging research and surveys of public opinion. For example, it took into account studies showing that there were more frequent visits to woods when they were close to people’s homes.
The Woodland Access Standard therefore aspires that people should have access to woodland of an adequate size within easy reach of where they live – woodland of at least 2ha within 500m. Also, research shows that 59% of wood visits entail a round trip distance of under 8km. Given this, there are further opportunities to provide larger woods around communities within a distance people can easily travel – a 20 ha of woodland within 4km.
The Standard is intended as an aspirational benchmark and a basis for discussion. Clearly, the specific circumstances of an area will require some flexibility when it comes to its interpretation but what it does do it set out a measurable indicator of access to a resource that clearly improves the quality of our lives and that, in our view, is a very significant contribution to the well-being debate.
Dr James Coooper, head of Government Affairs