Covid pandemic has helped people to ‘re-engage’ with nature, says agency

Previously stated barriers such as lack of time from being at work diminished in 2020

Survey results confirm increases of between 30 per cent and 45 per cent in time spent in blue and green spaces for physical and mental health compared to 2019, ‘with nearly half of respondents reporting discovering new, or rediscovering old, green and blue spaces in their community’.

Survey results confirm increases of between 30 per cent and 45 per cent in time spent in blue and green spaces for physical and mental health compared to 2019, ‘with nearly half of respondents reporting discovering new, or rediscovering old, green and blue spaces in their community’.

 

Kevin O’Sullivan

Covid-19 challenged people’s abilities to cope with societal disruption but prompted stronger appreciation of “connectedness to the environment on a local scale” even within a few kilometres of home.

That came in the form of enjoying green open spaces (parks, shorelines, hills) and blue spaces (visible water such as rivers, ponds, lakes, canals and ports/sea), according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

“There has been widespread indication people of all ages are re-engaging with their environment, enhancing their appreciation for nature and benefiting from access to it,” according to the EPA’s Ireland’s Environment – An Integrated assessment report.

Previously stated barriers to engaging with their local environment (lack of time from being at work, busy at home and poor weather) diminished in importance during the first half of 2020.

Survey results confirm increases of between 30 per cent and 45 per cent in time spent in blue and green spaces for physical and mental health compared to 2019, “with nearly half of respondents reporting discovering new, or rediscovering old, green and blue spaces in their community”.

Infrastructure

Green/blue infrastructure entails protecting and enhancing nature and natural processes, which provide many benefits to society, but needs to be integrated into spatial planning and underpin sustainable development.

It requires strategically planned and managed networks of natural and semi-natural areas, it adds. Their critical role in nature is providing a wide range of “ecosystem services” including biodiversity support, water purification, air quality, flood management, recreation and climate mitigation and adaptation.

This network “helps to sustain (and can improve) our environment, our health and our quality of life”, it adds. It also creates job opportunities and supports the green economy, which Ireland is well-placed to exploit with the right planning and investment.

It means recognising the many benefits green (and blue) spaces provide and protecting and managing them within statutory land use plans, it notes.

Restoring degraded ecosystems and expanding green infrastructure use helps overcome land fragmentation. Fragmentation splits up landscape into smaller areas which can impact on natural habitats and make it more difficult for animals to move safely in the modified area.

Ireland’s National Planning Framework requires local authorities to incorporate planning for green infrastructure and ecosystem services into land use plans. The report cites the example of Fingal’s Green Infrastructure Strategy.

Significant growth in green and blue schemes has occurred in Ireland since 2016 such as the Waterford Greenway and Barrow Blueway, the EPA says. “These schemes offer many environmental and health benefits, as well as providing opportunities for sustainable tourism and support to the local economy.”

If not carefully designed and developed, and subjected to proper environmental assessments, they can damage existing green infrastructure. Projects aiming to provide routes through Special Areas of Conservation or Special Protection Areas risk undermining these designations, it warns.