The UK's local parks and green spaces are playing a critical role as places for folk to get outdoors, exercise and meet loved ones safely during the current coronavirus lockdown. However, a newly-released report by the Fields in Trust (FiT) environmental charity claims that parks and green spaces are under imminent threat and it appeals 'to all of us to stem this cycle of disappearance and decay' in its new 'Green Spaces for Good' strategy.
Scotland comes out top in FiT's 2020 green space index (gsindex) which ranks the minimum standard of provision on a score of 1. It currently has 26% over the minimum recommended provision, with Wales just over the minimum by 4%. However, London has just over half, at 55%. The green space index is Fields in Trust's barometer of publicly accessible park and green space provision. The charity's earlier research document, Revaluing Parks and Green Spaces,
claims that across the UK these spaces annually provide people with more than £34 billion of health and well-being benefits, and it declares: 'We believe that green spaces are good, do good and need to be protected for good'.
Yet these spaces are not equally distributed, so Fields in Trust initiated the green space index to review the situation across the nations and regions of Great Britain. Cheif Executive Helen Griffiths told Scottish Review
: 'Parks and green spaces play a vital role in people's health and well-being, and these benefits have been shown even more starkly during the really difficult times our country has faced in recent months. Our local parks and green spaces have been crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic crisis and they will have a significant part to play in our recovery... Yet our research shows that more than 2.7 million people don't have a park within a short walk of home, and this number is forecast to grow over the coming years. This doesn't have to be the case and that is why we are now calling for a national strategy to recognise their value by ensuring access to parks and green spaces is guaranteed both now, and in the future, in the areas where they are most needed'.
Echoing the importance of parks and green spaces, the Co-op's chief executive, Steve Murrells, told Scottish Review
: 'COVID-19 has proved that green spaces promise long-term benefits to a community's well-being. However, despite this, our precious parks and outdoor spaces are at risk – we need to act now... At the Co-op, we believe that empowering community groups to save, protect and enhance the places and spaces that really matter to them is the most effective way to safeguard those spaces and we need to remove the barriers that make that difficult for communities'.
According to the gsindex, ranging across Great Britain there is an average of 32.94 square metres of provision per person. Scotland again comes out top – enjoying 43.48 square metres per person. It is followed by South East England on 39.86 and East of England on 39.21. Wales is well down the league table at 36.31 square metres, and London is again in bottom spot at 18.96. Londoners are also found to be the least likely to have access to a garden.
Fields in Trust, which has offices in Dundee, London, and Cardiff, is an independent charity which was founded 95 years ago, and on 8 July will celebrate the 95th anniversary of its inaugural meeting. The Duke of York, who later became King George VI, hosted that historic meeting and subsequently served as FiT's first president.
As well as the current partnership with the Co-op, Fields in Trust works with more than 300 local authorities, more than 650 town, parish and community councils, and more than 150 private landowners – all of whom at least have one park or green space protected in perpetuity. Parks and green spaces are not a statutory service and of the 215,000 hectares involved across Great Britain, only 12,700 hectares are legally protected by Fields in Trust. Scotland accounts for 23,872 hectares of the 215,000 total figure.
Helen Griffiths points out: 'We know that these spaces across the country continue to be threatened with imminent loss. With less than 6% of all green space provision legally protected by Fields in Trust, it is vital that we keep watch over our nation's parks and green spaces to help stem their disappearance and decline'.
Despite local green spaces being of such value to the entire population right now, FiT's 2020 gsindex finds that 2.7 million people across Great Britain do not have access to such a space within a 10-minute walk of where they live. The figure for Scotland is surprisingly high, with 318,355 people in this category, while Wales has 241,253. London, surprisingly, comes out top with a figure of 12,108 people. Working in co-operation with the Co-op, FiT estimates that the 2.7 million people total could rise by a further 170,000 in the next five years as a result of changes in population alone.
Five English regions fall below a minimum standard of green space provision as measured by FiT's gsindex, with a further two only just at the benchmark of 1. While Scotland (1.26) and Wales (1.04) both exceed the standard, changes in population are forecast to bring them closer to the minimum over the next 20 years.
Helen Griffiths warns: 'The situation is set to get worse. Our research, in partnership with the Co-op, shows that over the next two decades green space provision per person across Great Britain could reduce by 7.6% – the equivalent of almost 20,000 football pitches worth of green space, solely as a result of changes in population. Any further loss of green space to development would further exacerbate this reduction... Our own research valued the physical health and mental wellbeing benefits for communities at more than £34 billion each year. It also found regular users of parks have fewer visits to their GP resulting in a saving to the NHS alone of £111 million each year – the equivalent of 3,500 nurses' salaries'.
The FiT gsindex, which is compiled by using the Ordnance Survey's Open Greenspace product, analyses publicly accessible local park and green space provision as mapped by Ordnance Survey. Its scope does not include regional park and green space land such as national parks and common land, or other aspects of green infrastructure such as canal towpaths and grass verges. Northern Ireland is not included because data is not made available by Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland.
The gsindex is compiled using typologies (classifications). The typologies include bowling greens, other sports facilities, play spaces, playing fields, public parks and public gardens, and tennis courts. Excluded elements include allotments and community growing spaces, cemeteries, religious grounds and golf courses.
Both Scotland and Wales have their own set-ups under the UK-wide umbrella body – Fields in Trust Scotland and Fields in Trust Cymru. Fields in Trust Scotland works with councils, community groups and policymakers to champion the value of Scotland's parks and green spaces to achieve better protection for their future at both local and national level. It delivers programmes including Centenary Fields and Active Spaces with the support of local partners. The manager of the Scottish operation is Colin Rennie, who operates from an office in The Circle in Dundee.
Fields in Trust Scotland works in partnership with other leading organisations in the environmental and sport sectors including Greenspace Scotland, Keep Scotland Beautiful, Play Scotland, sportscotland and a range of other bodies. The Scottish operation is guided by a committee which draws together expertise from the legal, political and planning sectors as well as extensive experience in sport and play. The committee's members are: Brian Samson (chairman), Ewan Gillies (vice-chairman), June Gilles, Marguerite Hunter-Blair, Kate Jenkins, Alison Johnstone MSP, George MacWilliam, Councillor Michael Marra, Rob Murray, Blair Young and David Smith.
You can read the full green space index findings at the Fields in Trust
website and to explore the map of green space provision in Scotland, click here