Introduction to South West Area Statement
Welcome to the South West Wales Area Statement....
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Healthy and resilient natural resources underpin our health and well-being, as well as being an important part of our culture and economy. They provide our food, clean water, air, energy and protect us against hazards such as flooding and climate change. These are the natural benefits of a place.
There are stark differences in people’s health across South West Wales. The link between our health and the condition and accessibility of our natural environment has been recognised and reflected in the Public Services Board (PSB) well-being plans in Neath Port Talbot, Swansea, Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire.
We know that being active outdoors in a natural environment improves people’s physical health and mental well-being. Whether you live in the countryside or the city, it is important we all have easily accessible green space, e.g. woods, meadows and parks, and blue space, e.g. rivers, lakes and the sea. If communities use these 'outdoor gyms' there are benefits through improved health and well-being, as well as reduced healthcare costs . We all need to manage our natural resources in better, more sustainable ways so they are cleaner, greener, more accessible and maintain their natural beauty - bringing increased enjoyment and benefits to local people and visitors.
In Wales, on average, people are living longer than previously and living longer in good health. When we look at the those living in the least and most deprived areas of South West Wales, however, there are big differences in people’s health. Those living in deprived areas not only have lower life expectancy, they are also in less good health.
If we look at the information for those living in the most and least deprived areas in the county of Swansea, the difference in healthy life expectancy is 21.9 years for males and 16.3 years for females. Males living in the most deprived fifth of Wales not only have a shorter lifespan, but also spend less of it in good health (77%) compared to those living in the least deprived fifth (89%). The same is true of females (74% vs 86%). A correlation between higher overall deprivation and low physical health scores can be observed in urban areas and in the Welsh valleys, where the majority of areas in Swansea and Neath Port Talbot score low.
We have identified three key topics related to this theme:
There is a direct link between people’s good health and being surrounded by the natural environment. Our green and blue spaces, including parks, open spaces, playing fields, woodlands, wetlands, road verges, rivers, canals, allotments and private gardens are often referred to as green infrastructure. This living network not only defines and shapes the character of a place but also delivers multiple benefits for biodiversity, health and well-being.
By having an excellent living network in an urban area, it can help connect fragmented wildlife populations and habitats, linking urban areas with their surrounding environment. In other words, green infrastructure is good for people and for nature.
Low-income areas are associated with lower quality housing and education, poor diet, and less access to good quality green space. Living near areas of greenspace (such as parks or woodland) can improve health, regardless of social class.
Urban trees are an important component of green infrastructure. Some towns in South West Wales have notably low levels of tree cover (including Port Talbot at 7.5% and Gorseinon, Haverfordwest, Carmarthen and Llanelli at around 11%). Additionally, tree cover is not evenly distributed in these areas with deprived areas tending to have lower cover.
The Active Travel (Wales) Act encourages more people to undertake regular journeys on foot and bicycle. Investment in an active travel infrastructure can result in significant economic benefits. The building of green active travel routes can result in multiple benefits for people and biodiversity.
The Area Statement work so far has identified that giving people access to recreational trails, as well as green/blue travel routes is an important priority. This is something also identified through our Public Services Board engagement and local plans (e.g. Pembrokeshire Well-being Plan and Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Draft Management Plan) for South West Wales in both rural and urban locations.
Outdoor recreation activities provide multiple benefits for people, the environment and the economy by encouraging environmentally friendly behaviours, contributing to health outcomes and through tourism. South West Wales has a lot to offer both in terms of locally accessible countryside and internationally renowned fisheries, mountain biking trails and bathing beaches.
Given this provision, we would like to work collaboratively to support nature-based activities and make the outdoors more accessible to all.
Image by Pippa Sabine
Ensuring our natural resources are of high quality is key to our well-being. From the air we breathe and the waters we swim in, to managing the risk from the rivers and coast we live by, nature-based solutions can deliver multiple benefits for people and the environment. There is a strong connection between this topic and our land management theme.
The coastal zone around South West Wales is hugely important to support tourism and industry as well as providing human health benefits. Within this area we have 40 designated bathing waters (33 ‘Excellent’, 6 ‘Good’ & 1 ‘Sufficient’) which the tourism industry relies on for visitors.
The European Union has introduced significantly tighter water quality standards causing several bathing waters to be at risk of not meeting the new minimum requirements. Activities and discharges from the urban environment can have a detrimental effect on these waters which can have a significant impact on those enjoying them.
It should be noted that, as a cross cutting theme, the considerations in our climate change section also apply here and vice versa. Unmanaged, the impacts of our changing climate will have potentially negative consequences for our future health and well-being and often these are hardest felt by the most vulnerable in society. Similarly, interventions to help improve health, e.g. accessible GI, can also help us manage and cope with the effects of climate change.
A key part of the development of this Area Statement has been our engagement with stakeholders and we say more about this in the next section.
In the previous section we have described some of the main considerations and opportunities for improving health. Here we have set out ‘what success looks like’ as a series of you told us statements reflecting the general consensus from our engagement sessions; these sessions generated a wealth of information ideas and the following represents just a summary of the opportunities ahead of us (where there was general agreement among multiple stakeholders). If you feel that we have missed something, please don’t worry, we want to carry on the conversations we have started. Please see the section at the end of this theme which details how you can remain part of this process.
Image by Pippa Sabine
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In developing this Area Statement our aim has been to work collaboratively and represent the views and ideas from all stakeholders in South West Wales. Our goal has been to involve you in helping identify the key risks that we all face in managing our natural resources sustainably, as well as the opportunities.
This has required a different way of working.
We have undertaken a wide range of engagement activities, including targeted planning workshops with selected experts to larger multi-sectoral workshops. The latter have been well attended and included elected representatives, community groups, eNGOs, as well as officials from the public sector. We’ve also ensured that representative groups (such as farming unions, angling associations etc) have been included. The business sector has mainly been represented by larger industry.
As many different sectors have been included as possible to capture the widest range of views and expertise.
Internally we have been working closely with our colleagues developing the South Central Wales, Marine and Mid Wales Area Statements to ensure that actions link up where appropriate. In particular, the coastal zone and marine environment are very important for us in South West Wales and we recognise that what happens on land often impacts the sea and vice versa.
We need your continued support to progress the opportunities and actions we set out earlier and in this section. We will be continuing our conversations with you on how best to take this forward – both in terms of delivery and in refining the detail where further work is needed. This is likely to involve more focused work on specific themes or around particular geographical areas (e.g. the opportunity catchments).
So, we encourage all stakeholders, existing and new, to get involved - further details on how to do this are in the next section.
Throughout this theme there are clear areas which you told us were important for implementing effective actions to improve health outcomes and reduce health inequalities. These include the development planning system, utilising the public sector estate, recreation and access, and environmental improvements (air and water quality).
By embracing the natural environment in South West Wales we can play our part in improving some of the chronic health conditions seen in the area – both in rural and urban settings. Ecosystems which are located near populations provide the best opportunity and should be managed in a way that maximises the benefits that they provide for physical and mental well-being.
In delivering any actions an integrated and collaborative approach will need to be taken, reflecting the principles of SMNR and incorporating the five ‘ways of working’ from the Well-being of Future Generations Act.
This theme is only the beginning of the journey as we work with people to improve the management of South West Wales’ natural resources. If you would like to be part of this process, please get in touch with us using the form below. Alternatively, please email us direct at: Southwest.firstname.lastname@example.org