Go wild for nature

"Two days in the wilds of Dartmoor (tent-less)". Image: Will Richards

To protect nature, we must first be able to appreciate it.

Ancient English laws exclude the public from accessing the wealth of meadows, woodlands, rivers and forests.

As citizens we should make it our collective resolution to connect with the natural world around us in 2023. This has become even more clear to me in the wake of the major COP15 biodiversity conference last month in Montreal, Canada.

However, unlike in Scotland, the Baltic States and large areas of Scandinavia, the ‘freedom to roam’ remains highly restricted in England. A total of 92 per cent of the English countryside remains off-limits to the public.

Indeed, the most recent protests following the court case that overturned the right to wild camp in Dartmoor illustrate just how much public appetite there is for increased access to the countryside. 


Ultimately, if we want to learn to protect our natural habitat, we must first appreciate it. 2023 must be the year that the ‘freedom to roam’ is extended to English and Welsh nature lovers too. 

A major study has, unsurprisingly, found that spending time in nature can be a huge boost to our physical and natural health. That’s why we could see ‘green therapy’, or ‘eco therapy’, being prescribed by the NHS. 

However, the UK is hardly a trailblazer. The practice of ‘forest bathing,’ or ‘Shinrin-yoku’, has been a common practice since the 1980s, in order to counter the mental health problems associated with the culture of overwork. 

Studies have found find that more exposure to nature is instrumental in both reducing stress and restoring attention. When the average person in the UK spends an eye-watering 75 per cent of their waking hours looking at a screen, the natural world can provide necessary balance to the onslaught of technological stimulation found in the modern world. 

In fact, researchers from the University of Chicago found that green views near children’s homes promoted self-control behaviours, and adults in public housing found near green spaces exhibited better memory, cognitive flexibility and mental control.


A more recent meta analysis, spanning 301 different studies from 62 countries, found a further 227 ways in which time in nature can boost our mood and well-being. In short, time in nature is the balm our modern minds desperately need. 

Ancient English laws exclude the public from accessing the wealth of meadows, woodlands, rivers and forests.

Yet from my work running a conservation travel company, I know that spending time in nature can help us to develop a deeper appreciation for the natural world, and the need for its conservation.

A study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology found that those who visit natural spaces weekly are more likely to engage in more environmentally-friendly practices.

As the scientist Robert Pyle famously put it: “People who care conserve; people who don’t know don’t care. What is the extinction of the condor to a child who has never known the wren?”


Across the world, many other countries encourage free roaming. Across various Scandinavian countries, the ‘Allemensratten’ law, translated directly as ‘All-Man’s right’, allows citizens to freely access natural areas. 

Sweden provides one such example. While the custom dates from medieval times, the law was passed into parliament in 1974, and enshrined in the Swedish constitution in 1994. Authorities can even force landowners to remove any fence in place which has the sole purpose of obstructing public access to a recreation area. 

In neighbouring Scotland, law is set out in Section 1 of the Land Reform Act 2003 everyone has the right to be on land for recreational purposes and to cross land for such purposes. This is colloquially known as the ‘right to roam’. 

The same cannot be said for England, where ancient laws exclude the public from accessing the wealth of meadows, woodlands, rivers and forests. Indeed, getting caught wild-camping in England or Wales could see you lumped with a £2,500 fine.  


There have been attempts to instill the freedom-to-roam law in the UK before. At the end of the Second World War, the Attlee government attempted to implement the Freedom to Roam law into law as a corollary of the NHS, an act that the land-owning House of Lords suggested was a step too far. 

Today, the NHS is at breaking point, and Britain has lost almost half of its biodiversity since 1970. Time in nature serves our physical and mental health, and helps us to protect the natural world around us.

Given the boosted post-Covid public appetite for more time in nature, it’s time that the British government realized Attlee’s initial vision, and allowed Brits to roam freely in the country they call home. 

As per the most recent ‘peace-pact’ with nature at the biodiversity focussed COP 15, perhaps it’s time that the British government allowed English and Welsh hikers to fully appreciate the beautiful and diverse ecosystem that they have around them.

Enjoyment leads to education, and that is the first step to preservation. To protect the great English and Welsh countryside, people must be allowed to enjoy it first. 

This Author

Daniel Kaul is the founder of Natucate, an agency specialised in the organisation of selected projects for nature travel, wilderness experiences, voluntary work, internships and sabbaticals.

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