Chalkscapes Landscape Partnership

Chalkscapes Landscape Partnership

Chalkscapes is a landscape partnership project designed to  inspire people to understand and care for the North Chilterns’ chalk landscape.

 

The project aims to deliver landscape-scale conservation and community engagement, giving urgent support to the wildlife, heritage and communities which face unprecedented and relentless levels of housing, infrastructure growth and environmental pressures.

Chalkscapes study on how diverse communities engage with greenspaces and the countryside

 

As part of the development phase of the Chalkscapes landscape partnership, we commissioned the University of Bedfordshire to undertake a study looking at how diverse communities engage with greenspaces and the countryside.

The study, focusing on Luton and Dunstable, found that only around 33% of participants visited greenspaces weekly, with older individuals, those facing deprivation, and people from minority ethnic backgrounds being the least frequent users. Key findings included a limited awareness of greenspaces and the countryside, and barriers including a lack of essential facilities, concerns about racism, discrimination, and safety, anxieties about unleashed dogs, and worries about the costs and availability of transport.

The development phase of the project – including the study – was created thanks to funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and other partners.

Dr Elaine King, Chief Executive at the Chilterns National Landscape, emphasised the need for inclusive access to the Chilterns landscape, saying, “The Chilterns is a very special landscape and everyone should be able to access and enjoy all that it has to offer. At a time when so many inequalities exist in society, the results of this study provide an opportunity to improve both people’s enjoyment of the countryside, and the positive effects it can have on their health and wellbeing.”

The Chilterns National Landscape served as the study’s backdrop, covering over 833 km2 and providing a range of opportunities for recreation and relaxation. Despite its proximity to ethnically diverse communities, the study revealed lower engagement from these groups. The research, commissioned by the Chilterns National Landscape with funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, involved 14 focus groups, nine interviews with community representatives, and a community survey generating 906 completed questionnaires, making it one of the most extensive studies in the UK on greenspace accessibility.

Professor Nasreen Ali, at the University of Bedfordshire and who led the study, said, “We used our Talk, Listen, Change ethnographic approach to engage with our communities of interest, in which face-to-face interviews enabled us to better understand how individuals and societies’ function.”

Unique strengths of the study included building trusted relationships with ‘less visible’ community members through a team of local bilingual researchers, ensuring representation of diverse local populations.

Co-researcher, Professor Gurch Randhawa, said “We recommend developing and delivering a Collaborative Targeted Outreach Programme for improving access to greenspaces and the Chilterns countryside. Working with diverse communities and religious organisations, we want to co-create ways to increase access for underrepresented groups to greenspaces and the Chilterns countryside.”

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What's next?

We are now seeking funding to deliver a Collaborative Targeted Outreach Programme (CTOP) to develop sustainable, scalable activities which overcome the barriers identified and increase the use of local greenspaces and the countryside.

Please contact us if you would like to discuss funding the next stage of this work.

Why is Chalkscapes important?

The landscape of the North Chilterns has never faced greater challenges.  Wildlife and heritage is under threat from relentless development and infrastructure growth, whilst the rapidly expanding nearby urban areas contain communities which are increasingly transient and disengaged from the landscape and heritage on their doorstep.

People are increasingly disconnected to nature, yet our country needs green spaces and the powerful benefits of nature now, more than ever. An increasing awareness of climate change brings the opportunity to show people why it matters – and challenges are both global and local.

Easily accessible by train from London, the Chilterns is an irreplaceable green lung serving South East England, its landscape encircling urban areas with some of the highest levels of deprivation in the country.  And yet studies have shown a clear disconnect between urban communities and the landscape on their doorstep.  This connection must be restored, not only for the benefit of the landscape, but for the 1.6 million people who live and work within 8km of its boundary.

We know there is a both need and opportunity to inspire and engage more diverse groups of people in appreciating, understanding and caring for our natural heritage.

For many residents of Luton, Dunstable and other urban areas, where demographic change has been rapid, the countryside of the North Chilterns may have little relevance.   Luton has a population of 214,700, with over 50% of the population identifying as BAME.  There is a growing ethnic diversity; black and Asian populations continue to increase, and there are high levels of transient communities.

What is not valued and loved is at risk of being neglected, and lost. ”

The strength of Chalkscapes lies in its aspiration to link divergent organisations and provide the opportunity for them to work collaboratively to achieve a greater impact for landscape, heritage and people. For too long, conservation organisations have struggled to raise the profile of their causes and the increasing focus on climate change and environmental issues in mainstream conversation now provides an opportunity to reach out to a wider audience.

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