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  • Writer's pictureKate Morley

What's the 'story' of my PhD? A concise summary:

Updated: Jun 19, 2023

Disability and social inclusion in urban nature-

A case study of Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole, England


There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that time spent in and with urban nature can benefit people’s health and well-being. As a society, England is becoming increasingly urbanized. According to 2019 figures an estimated 83% (56.3 million people) of England’s population lived in urban areas, compared to 17% (9.6 million) of the population that lived in rural areas. Urban nature is deemed specifically important as a ‘low-cost and accessible health and social intervention’ for people within their own communities. But can these benefits be fully realised by all members of the community, including disabled people? And do these benefits arise through all forms of urban nature that we encounter, from formal ‘manicured’ parks and gardens to wilder urban nature reserves and ‘disordered’ or ‘feral’ spaces (e.g. abandoned railway sidings, urban wastelands)?

Aims and rationale

This PhD will explore how disabled people perceive and interact with varied forms of urban nature and how this impacts their lives, in potentially positive and negative ways. It will examine how urban areas can be more nature friendly without disadvantaging disabled people, by talking to disabled people and hearing their lived experiences of living alongside nature in the case study area of Bournemouth, Christchurch, and Poole (BCP).

BCP is a unitary local authority which recently came into being in 2019. Due to its coastal location, BCP consists of both urban blue and green space and took part in the Future Parks Accelerator which was a partnership between local communities and Local Authorities to create “healthy, thriving, climate resilient cities and towns”. The Parks Foundation is an independent charity that works alongside BCP council to enhance the green spaces in the area. Coupled with these innovative approaches to green space management in BCP, there are projects in the area that have been shown to be examples of nationally recognised ‘excellence’ in how disabled people can access green spaces. Conversely, BCP is an area of significant disparity with neighbouring areas amongst the most and least deprived in England, which has important implications for health inequalities within the region.

With space in urban areas often under pressure from competing interests, how nature finds a home in urban environments can be widely contested. How urban nature settings can be designed to benefit human and non-human nature in an inclusive way will therefore be explored in this PhD.

Often outdoor experiences for disabled people are carefully choreographed. Loaded with risk assessments and perceived accessibility needs, the nature experience of a disabled person can become so sanitised that the health and well-being benefits of being in nature are diminished. Where urban nature settings are available in BCP, we will investigate whether they are accessible (recognising varied domains of access) and what makes for an enriching urban nature visit for disabled people.

Disabled people have often been marginalised in the climate crisis debate, with many mitigation measures having a practical, often negative, impact on disabled people. It is imperative that disabled people are not similarly marginalised when society explores and adopts measures in urban environments to tackle the biodiversity crisis. Disabled people are well used to living a life of rapid adaptation and problem-solving, and some of the broader environmental justice literature identifies that if disabled people are involved in the planning and implementation stage of any new intervention, their lived experiences can offer unique insights and perspectives. This PhD will therefore also examine whether and how disabled people are involved in the co-design, planning and implementation of urban nature settings within BCP.

Design and Methods

Through an in-depth qualitative case study of the Bournemouth, Christchurch, and Poole (BCP) area, the PhD will have two key phases:

Phase 1 will involve semi-structured interviews with a purposive sample of key informants in BCP, including decision makers involved in shaping BCP’s urban nature spaces (e.g. the local council and key environmental charities) and disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) working in the local areas.

Phase 2 will involve a combination of semi-structured interviews followed by go-along interviews to hear from a purposive sample of BCP residents who identify as disabled, to explore how they relate to and interact with varied urban nature settings in BCP, and the biographical, embodied, socio-cultural and physical dimensions that shape this.

Outcomes and Impact

This PhD project will be impactful and translational amongst disabled people living alongside urban nature, as well as potentially inform policymaking, particularly in relation to the implications of the planning, implementation, and maintenance of urban nature settings as part of the wider ‘Groundswell Project’ (Funded by UKPRP and MRC). ‘GroundsWell' is a project that aims to involve local communities in Urban Green and Blue Space innovations which can benefit human health and well-being; with a specific focus to prevent and reduce inequalities that affect non-communicable diseases (NCD) in urban settings.

Carved brown wooden ornament with three loops, each loop has writing on: Environmental Justice, Social Justice and Disability Justice, all interlinked. In a Scots Pine Tree

Here is a summary poster I recently produced for a Post-Graduate Researcher Conference; Faculty of Health & Life Sciences, University of Exeter.

Copy of the Poster with content taken from main body of text. Pictures include, A picture of Sterte Green in Poole at the bottom. Goats grazing at the sea front in Bournemouth. Osprey bird in flight. Fox having a poo! Overgrowing brambles over path. Kingfisher Barn at Stour Valley Park, Grey squirrel. Group of people wnjoying socialising, two are using wheelchairs, all drinking from cans of beer

For a clearer high-resolution version please click here:

Download PDF • 3.93MB


6. Hudson H. Moving from Disability Rights to Disability Justice. Blog Post. World Institute on Disability. Accessed 06.2023.

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