From a young age, we are made aware of the importance of nature for our physical survival; from the trees which help us to breathe by removing carbon dioxide from the air, to the plants which provide food for us to eat. However, nature is not only important for our physical survival; we need it for our mental health. Ailis Watt, a student at the University of Glasgow, tells us how important her local nature is, and why RSPB Scotland is campaigning for better access for everyone.

 “I have always respected nature and appreciated its beauty. However, during lockdown, a time when my anxieties were heightened and there were few distractions from reality, I realised that I also relied on nature. Spending time outdoors in my garden proved to have a remarkable impact upon my mental health, quickly becoming a necessary part of my daily routine.

 Accessing nature proved key to managing my anxiety, consistently making me feel less pessimistic and more energised. It is difficult to imagine how much more mentally challenging lockdown would have been without access to nature.

 However, where I live 17% of households do not have access to a private or shared garden; the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted both our reliance upon nature and the inequalities which persist in access to it.”

 Sparrowhawk perched on garden fence

 The theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is nature. From taking a walk for fresh air, growing vegetables on balconies or having a kick about in the park, many of us have relied on our local nature more than ever during the Covid-19 pandemic to clear our heads, be it our gardens or public green spaces.

 However, one in eight households in Great Britain have no access to a private or shared garden, and in Scotland this rises to 13%Use this map to check how many households have access to gardens in your area.

 People with limited access to nature lose a vital tool which can help deal with mental health problems, reducing their ability to protect their mental health. Disparities in access to nature must therefore be acknowledged for what they are: a driver of mental health inequalities.

 The World Health Organisation has championed urban green spaces for their potential to improve the mental health of those living in cities; we must not undervalue nature as a simple yet crucial resource for our mental wellbeing.

Heron sitting by urban stretch of river

 We must demand that the new Scottish Government provide increased access to nature for all, particularly for those living in urban and deprived area, where access to nature is most unequal. One way to achieve this is through Nature Networks. Through expansion and linking-up of wild spaces, people’s access to nature can be increased while wildlife thrives.

 Connected wild spaces are better for nature too, creating green corridors in which wildlife is protected. We don’t just need patches of highly manicured grass, we need trees and wildflowers, waterways and weeds. We need our urban green spaces to be havens for Scottish species. Spending time in nature-rich areas and connecting with high quality green spaces invokes a greater sense of care and responsibility for the natural world. It’s hard to be motivated to protect something you have no experience of.

 Through time spent in nature people can experience reduced symptoms of anxiety, depression and stress, increased happiness and improved cardiovascular health. When we look after nature, we look after ourselves. With Mental Health Awareness Week drawing attention to the importance of nature, it is vital that the Scottish Government prioritises equal access to nature-rich green space across the country.

Patch of wildflowers at the side of a path