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Walk the walk: Clara Walker reflects on the pandemic, climate change and walking

Ahead of Clean Air Day this Thursday, we asked Clara Walker, Executive Director at Forth Environment Link, to reflect on how the past year has changed our relationship to the world around us and how important walking is in tackling climate change and air pollution.

Published: 15/06/2021

What a difference a year makes. The last 15 months have seen changes few of us could have ever imagined pre-Covid. Our proximity to one another has shifted both metaphorically and physically. Geographical boundaries have fallen away and global events have had the most profound local impacts. 

As a result, we now travel differently; we eat and access food at a hyper-local level; supply chains and movement of goods have highlighted systemic weaknesses; and our personal focus has been redirected to our own communities and their needs. Amidst all of this our planet has filled her lungs, deep and long, and taken a breath.

As we approach Clean Air Day on the 17th of June, I wanted to reflect, personally, on how important walking, cycling and wheeling have been throughout the pandemic and how, as a result,  nature has emerged as a healing balm when we needed it most. 
Walking has taken on a new significance; it has been our connection to our community; to our loved ones; to ourselves; and to our environment. By doing more of it, not only have we contributed to slowing the progress of Covid in our communities, we have also let nature in. How many things can you identify in your daily lives with such multifaceted benefits? Aside from anything else, there is something primal about planting your feet on the earth, it simply is grounding. On days when our world felt very small, a daily walk with my children, sometimes laughing, sometimes bickering, sometimes quiet and thoughtful, recalibrated our settings. When I asked them recently what they will remember from lockdown life they said, without question, our walks last Spring and Summer.  
My eldest, a teenager with all the pressures that brings, is changed by her walks. She was given the space and the authority to walk for the sheer pleasure of it and now it has become part of her routine, part of how she socialises, part of who she is. The younger two, found their wheels, with us and independently, and came back with tales to tell, places to go and people to see – pink of cheek, smelling of the air and smiling. The dog and I found solace in the hills, never straying far from home but just enough to give us time to process our thoughts and make sure the rabbits were in no doubt who was boss.  

In this year where, at the time of writing, the eyes of the world will be on Scotland in November as we host COP26, the UN Climate Change Conference. Walking, cycling and wheeling are recognised as tangible and increasingly accessible actions in an intractable global challenge. They are the embodiment of ‘act local, think global’ and the connection they give us to the world and people around us is invaluable and will last us a lifetime. So as Clean Air Day 2021 approaches let's reflect on the past year and be mindful of the small actions we can all take to protect our health, our environment and tackle air pollution. It has never been more important to recognise that our every step counts.

You can find out more about the work Forth Environment Link here