Toby speaking at the Outdoors for All parliamentary reception
Toby speaking at the Outdoors for All parliamentary reception

I was very pleased to be invited to speak at the Outdoors for All Coalition reception in Parliament and to talk about Labour’s legacy on access to nature, and our plans for opening up nature for all to use. You can read my full speech below:

“Thank you to the Outdoors For All Coalition for putting this event on today and bringing us together to discuss this absolutely crucial issue. Thanks also to Tracey Crouch and Kim Leadbeater for sponsoring the event.

Both Tracey and Kim have the rare distinction of being MPs equally liked and respected by members from across the house and people across the political spectrum, and I know that Tracey has recently announced that she won’t be standing for re-election and that she will be very much missed.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Outdoors For All Coalition on their manifesto. I know it is the culmination of lots of hard work from a host of organisations and experts.

It is always somewhat nerve-racking at this point in the electoral cycle when you receive these kind of documents but I was delighted that there was so much synergy between their demands and our own approach.

I am passionate about getting out into nature – both green and blue nature, so I very much welcome this work.

At the reception before the speeches, I was approached by several organisations asking me if I had done any canoeing- Yes; have you done outdoor swimming? Have you done any rambling- yes again; not the Mountaineering bit so much but there’s always time.

So there is much that I’ve done, but singing is not a talent I have. So regrettably I cannot provide a rendition of Ewan MacColl’s ‘The Manchester Rambler’, which I know will be a disappointment.But whilst I can’t do a Manchester Rambler, I am a Chesterfield Rambler. Although you won’t be surprised to know that, unlike those ground breaking ramblers celebrated by MacColl, I have never personally been a member of the Young Communist League, and take a more collegiate approach to the widening of access rights.

Notwithstanding that the sentiments of that song. that in our own leisure time, away from work, and with loved ones, there should be places and spaces, of beauty, for us all to go, irrespective of our means.

I am immensely proud of the legacy that the Labour Party has on opening up nature for all to use. I’m sure many here today will know that this year marks the 75th anniversary of the ground-breaking National Parks and access to the countryside act

This led to the designation of the national parks,

To areas of outstanding national beauty

To public rights of way

as well as national trails,

And it will never be lost on Labour Party members that it was the transformative Attlee government that created this important legacy.

And so it will fall to a new generation of Labour politicians to continue to make progress in this area.

The open air, and water, allows us to unwind, relax and gather new perspectives on life and its challenges. Having said all that, I’m not sure even the heartiest of hikes up Kinder Scout would relieve the stresses of being a Sheffield United supporter right now.

But post Covid I think we have all been all the more conscious of the role the outdoors plays in supporting our mental health so there is a very serious point here.

We know that access to nature maps onto deprivation indices and can be a massive factor in terms of health outcomes and wellbeing. The manifesto we are discussing today notes that physical inactivity costs the British economy over £7 billion a year and can be linked to 1 in 6 deaths. As the Environment Agency have told us, better use of the natural environment can help to prevent and better manage ill health. So, this is natural terrain for the Labour Party.

I can see commonality with our approach and that set out in the manifesto we are discussing today.

First, on extending access rights to more landscapes. Be these up hill, down dale, rivers, or woods. Labour would ensure people have a right to responsible access to nature, which they can enjoy to the full. People from every background should have greenery and nature around them, with access to parks and wildlife, and the opportunity to enjoy our great British countryside.

As the manifesto alludes to, there are still huge parts of England and Wales that are off limits when it comes to the right to access, whether that’s woodlands, cliffs or rivers. That needs to change. Rest assured that, should we be fortunate enough to serve, a Labour Government would be both proactive and consultative on this issue

A case in point is Dartmoor. Labour would resolve the issues raised by the Dartmoor wild camping case by ensuring people have a right to responsible access to nature, which they can enjoy to the full.

My boss, Steve Reed, recently paid a trip to Dartmoor and has told me how impressed he was visiting a fantastic project on Shallowford Farm. The work there epitomises what I think we all want to see and achieve when it comes to broadening access to our wealth of natural riches. Shallowford welcomes young people from inner city areas, often starved of lush green and blue spaces, and allows them to experience living and working in the countryside for a few nights. They really get stuck in, muck out the animals and learn the basics of food production.

Moments and opportunities like this open up whole new worlds to young people and start them on a journey of wanting to seek out and enjoy nature throughout their lives. For many of these young people, who have never experienced complete silence or pitch-black skies before, it is a useful reminder of the kinds of simple pleasures and experiences nature can provide us with.

The manifesto also discusses the cut-off date for historic rights of way. The government has created uncertainty for roamers and farmers. I’m really saddened by the way this has caused unnecessary divisions between groups. Turning our countryside into a contested, not a shared space. All the while, this uncertainty has left local authorities in limbo. And we know what kind of pressures local authorities are often under regardless of this issue.

On the deadline, and this is of course no reflection of my organisational skills, we know that a deadline can help focus minds. A deadline may even expedite processes to help make sure that paths are added back to the map as quickly as possible for future generations to enjoy. I’m sure we can all agree that the main focus here has to be on what works to get these paths added back as soon as possible, and it is my belief that a deadline helps with this.

It is, however, important that this deadline is kept under close review so as to make sure that the public does not lose access to precious footpaths.

As I have set out, this approach to a deadline meshes with our commitment to making sure that people have a right to responsible access to nature, which people from every background can enjoy to the full.

On the Environmental Land Management Schemes we will be looking to build on the initial intention of ELMs as originally envisaged but we know there is much to do to rebuild confidence.

It is right that we look for ways to increase rights of way and access, where there is a case for it, and it can be done responsibly. But all of this is, frankly, immaterial if the public cannot practically get there, if they are too far away from people with limited means of travelling long distances, be that for financial or health reasons.

The government is off track to meet its own commitment for all of us to be a mere fifteen minutes from nature. The latest figures suggest that almost 20 million people do not live within a 15 walk of green or blue space. So, it is really encouraging to see a focus on this in the manifesto, we need to keep it on the agenda. I’m sure that Labour’s progressive and responsible approach to access will boost people’s proximity to nature no end.

Thank you all once again for attending today and to Outdoors For All for putting this important manifesto together, and getting us all in one room to discuss the way forward. It is the admirable passion and drive of the organisations present in this room today that help drive this work on. I hope you can use the remainder of the morning as opportunity to develop the connections and partnerships we need to crack this issue once and for all. Thank you.”

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