Millions of urbanites will benefit from 20 new “green corridors” linking city centres with the calming countryside.
The National Trust, which is creating the routes, wants stressed city dwellers to rediscover the benefits of “therapeutic trips to the countryside”.
Bath will gain the first of the corridors on a three-mile route, which includes land previously earmarked for a giant park-and-ride site. Trips to the Somerset countryside were fashionable in the 18th century when Bath’s crescents and terraces were built.
The trust has acquired Bathampton Meadows, 99 acres alongside the River Avon, and pledged to protect them from development for ever. Pathways will be created and the meadows restored to encourage more wildflowers, butterflies and wading birds.
The new walking route will start in the heart of the city near Bath Abbey and is likely to end in the village of Batheaston. Walkers will be able to extend their journey to visit Little Solsbury Hill, which has fine views over the city.
The trust is planning to create another 19 corridors across England, Wales and Northern Ireland by 2030 and is working on routes in several large cities, which it expects to announce this year.
Hilary McGrady, the trust’s director-general, said: “These routes will improve access to nature for those living in urban areas who may feel disconnected from the countryside or who cannot access rural areas easily.
“Research has shown that engaging with nature is good for our wellbeing, and that those connected to nature are likely to do more to help protect it.
“Many of us have felt the benefit of spending time in the outdoors and close to nature, especially over the past couple of years. We want to make it easier for more people to spend time in nature, and to give people in cities the chance to access the countryside more easily.”
McGrady said the corridors would also benefit wildlife, allowing animals to move more easily from one habitat to another.
To create the Bath route, the trust has bought 38 acres of farmland and acquired 61 acres transferred by Bath and North East Somerset council.
Tom Boden, general manager of the trust’s Bath properties, said the charity would consult with the local community in the next few months “to develop an exciting vision for the land to benefit both people and nature”.
He added: “With the city’s unique position in a hollow in the hills, we want to help more people to get out to this amazing countryside.
“As well as improving paths for walkers, we’ll be exploring if and how we can enhance cycle access along parts of this route.
“Crucially, the proposed route is relatively flat, which will enable more people to not only enjoy the city’s architecture, but also nature in the meadows as well as time outdoors.”
He said hedgerows and trees, including an orchard, would be planted, which would help the existing greater horseshoe bat population, as well as attract pollinators. There would be “conservation grazing” on the farmland, he said.
Boden added: “We’re also aiming to create new wildflower meadows to help insects such as the small blue butterfly, and areas of wet woodland planted with trees such as willow, birch and alder to attract wading birds such as snipe, as well as scarce native birds, such as siskin or willow tits.”