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New plan calls for urban wetlands to help 'level up' inequalities in wellbeing

CREATING wildlife rich wetlands like ponds, streams, wetland parks and rain gardens in deprived urban communities could help level up inequalities in wellbeing across the UK, according to a new report. Currently, people in the poorest urban and ethnic communities are twice as likely as those in more affluent groups to live in neighbourhoods without good quality blue or green spaces. Some research suggests this differing access to nature rich areas could be associated with health inequalities.

The Wildfowl and Wetland Trust's (WWT) Creating Urban Wetlands for Wellbeing. A Route Map' outlines how high quality wetlands could help tackle these inequalities, often more effectively than other forms of nature.

The report highlights how wetlands can help low-income urban communities, which are frequently most at risk from the harmful impacts of poor mental health and the climate crisis, through relieving stress, cooling cities, reducing air and water pollution, alleviating flooding and boosting biodiversity.

In addition, the report outlines how blue spaces (environments that feature open water, such as wetlands) directly reduce stress more than green spaces alone. This could be due to the particularly wide range of stimuli wetland nature provides which engage all the senses. The light, soundscapes, changing patterns on water, and meaningful personal associations associated with aquatic settings may all reduce stress.

The powerful calming effect of blue space is further demonstrated by a study of 16,000 people across 18 countries, which found that frequently visiting 'watery' nature decreased mental distress[vi]. Just 10 minutes spent in urban wetlands can be enough to improve a person's mood.

People also socialise more in blue spaces, helping to build community cohesion and reduce social isolation. And restored linear wetlands, such as rivers, provide opportunities for physically active travel and leisure in space limited towns and cities.

WWT is working with the Mental Health Foundation (MHF) and the NHS, prescribing wetlands in London for people experiencing poor mental health with limited resources.

Dr Ben Plimpton, Project Manager from the Foundation, commented:- "Initiatives such as WWT and MHF's Blue Prescribing at London Wetland Centre can be particularly effective at improving people's mental health; and may sometimes prevent the need for crisis support. Initial assessment of social prescribing has shown that the average wellbeing value of wetland social prescribing was £4,848 per person, compared to £1,084 and £1,127 per person for arts engagement and sports participation respectively. Increasing structured access to City wetlands for those with limited resources, as our scheme does, could be 1 of the simplest ways to lift people's wellbeing in urban areas."

The route map details how nature rich wetlands can be created in a range of urban settings at a variety of scales, allowing them to fit in any urban space, including:-

    Installing simple drainpipe wetlands in backyards and gardens.

    Building new rain gardens during street repair work and neighbourhood improvements.

    Restoring streams and rivers flowing through neighbourhoods.

    Creating parks centred on wetlands that provide a wellbeing resource for whole communities.

It recommends creating and restoring wetlands where they can best reduce health inequalities, such as in areas without access to nature, where deprived communities and neighbourhoods are at risk of flooding and overheating as the climate crisis escalates.

The report urges Governments, businesses and civil society to play their part in creating and restoring urban wetlands that can help to level up wellbeing. In particular, restoring wetland nature to urban areas should be a major part of the Government's plans to level up opportunity across the country, with a new legal duty on Councils and developers to provide access to nature.

Dr James Robinson, Director of Conservation at WWT, said:- "Most human settlements grew around a water source and wetlands long used to be an integral part of our great towns and cities. However, increasingly new developments have swallowed many of them up. Worryingly, there are no UK-wide plans to increase the amount of blue or green nature in urban areas, despite the huge value they provide. London's natural spaces alone save the NHS £950M annually. WWT are experts at protecting, restoring and building new wetlands but to do this at scale, including in urban areas, more support and funding from the public and private sectors is needed. The opportunities that wetlands offer to enhance and extend our lives are established - but they are not being grasped. WWT's route map released today provides a clear plan of how this can be achieved."

David Lindo, 'the Urban Birder',' who supports WWT's call for more urban wetlands, said:- "I grew up in London and the River Brent was a lifeline for me as a child. I became absorbed in its wildlife and it sparked my lifelong love of birds and boosted my mental wellbeing. Everyone should have access to that and it's imperative that decision makers consider how to incorporate wetlands into our urban spaces; sooner rather than later. Wetlands could offer national and local Government a win-win situation helping them reach their levelling up, climate change, nature and health targets all at the same time. It's time to start thinking smart."

WWT's call for more urban wetlands is part of their wider Wetlands Can! Campaign, which is urging the public to pledge their support for a "blue recovery" by creating and restoring 100,000 hectares of wetlands throughout the UK to help combat the climate, nature and wellbeing crises.

Teenager's garden vision among 34 projects to win support from Mayor's £500,000 Community Environment Fund

A 15 year old boy's lockdown vision to turn derelict land into a community garden has been awarded a grant from Mayor Steve Rotheram's fund for grassroots environment projects. A therapy garden, food growing, beekeeping, biodiversity and a bike scheme are also among 34 projects that will be supported this summer by the £500,000 Liverpool City Region Community Environment Fund. Following the success of last year's fund which brought:- bees, wildflowers, upcycling, food planting and even lambs to the City Region, this year's applications for Phase II funding included Khan Odita's proposal to transform a disused patch of land rife for fly tipping into a community garden. The teenager spent last summer holiday founding the Mulgrave Street Action Group after becoming fed up with rubbish dumped near to his home. He came up with the idea of creating a space for the community to boost pride and create cohesion.

Steve Rotheram, Mayor of the Liverpool City Region, said:- "I launched the Community Environment Fund to empower residents across the Region to improve their communities. From an urban farm over on the Wirral, to Baz the beekeeper at the heart of L8, it was fantastic to get out and see the creative ways people were putting last year's fund to good use. This year it's back and better than ever! It's clear from the successful bids that people from all walks of life in all parts of our Region want to do their bit to make their neighbourhood cleaner and greener. Tackling climate change is an enormous task. It's not something that can be accomplished alone. Taken collectively, lots of small actions will add up to make a big difference and ensure that the Liverpool City Region is doing its bit to save the planet."

This year grants were available for smaller projects of up to £5,000, with up to £30,000 available for larger projects. The fund's application criteria were decided by the Liverpool City Region Climate Partnership, which was set up to provide expert advice on tackling the climate emergency.

The aims for the 2022 fund are:-

    To improve the Liverpool City Region's environment.

    To develop opportunities for environmental education to encourage long term behavioural change.

    To promote community buy-in and participation to safeguard the long term sustainability of quality green spaces.

    The fund also seeks to help the Liverpool City Region become net zero by 2040, reduce air pollution and improve the health and wellbeing of people across the whole City Region.

Recipient Khan Odita from the Mulgrave Street Action Group said:- "Receiving this funding means so much to me and the Mulgrave Street Action Group as it will enable us to come together to create this space and eventually have projects like growing food for the community within it. It will make our immediate area in L8 a much more environmentally friendly 1 and prevent fly tipping and other misuse so our neighbours can enjoy where they live."

The successful Community Environment Fund projects support the following themes:-

    Climate change and resilience.

    Air quality and transport.


    Accessible green spaces, habitats and biodiversity.

    Waste and resources.

    Health and wellbeing.

    Carbon and environment literacy.

    Energy reduction.

    Food and agriculture.

Gideon Ben Tovim, Chair of the Liverpool City Region Climate Partnership, established to act as an advisory body to the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, and of Nature Connected, said:- "Applications to the Community Environment Fund have been of a staggeringly high standard and this year has been no different. The level of variety of and scope we have seen from people who are already serving their communities has been admirable and I'm delighted we can support them further with this fund again for 2022."

Cllr David Baines, Portfolio Holder for Climate Emergency and Renewable Energy said:- "The Community Environment Fund gives people the opportunity to take their green projects further than perhaps they would be able to ordinarily. Many residents in the City Region have the desire to help combat the climate emergency and do as much as they can to support the net zero agenda and this fund with its unique projects allows them to do just that. I'm really looking forward to seeing some of the results from this year's schemes."

Cllr Gill Wood, Deputy Portfolio Holder for Low Carbon and Renewable Energy, said:- "These community projects make a real and immediate difference to people's lives and the activity all goes towards dealing with the challenge of climate emergency. I can't wait to see how this year's projects take shape and what impact they will have on our City Region residents."

More information on the Community Environment Fund projects is available at:- LiverpoolCityRegion-CA.Gov.UK.

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