Britain’s public parks and green spaces at risk, despite their critical role during the COVID-19 lockdown

Through the COVID-19 lockdown we have realised just how valuable local parks and green spaces are to our health and wellbeing and as places to meet loved ones safely.

Green space charity Fields in Trust, who are celebrating their 95th anniversary this week, are calling for the revaluing of parks and green spaces to take account of what they contribute to communities – not just what they cost to maintain.

As the UK was rebuilding after World War I and a devastating influenza pandemic, the future King George VI convened the inaugural meeting of Fields in Trust (then known as the National Playing Fields Association) at London’s Royal Albert Hall on 8th July 1925. Since then, the charity has legally protected 2,852 parks and green spaces in perpetuity – ensuring they are available for play, sport or relaxation. However local green spaces remain at risk of loss to building development despite their health, wellbeing and community benefits.

The publication in May of Fields in Trust’s Green Space Index revealed that across Great Britain 2.7 million people already live more than a ten-minute walk from a public park and a further 170,000 people could be in the same position in the next five years as population increases. Earlier research from Fields in Trust, valued the physical health and mental wellbeing benefits for communities at more than £34 billion each year, They found regular users of parks have fewer visits to their GP resulting in a saving to the NHS alone of £111 million pa; the equivalent of 3,500 nurses salaries.

Fields in Trust are each calling on the Government to ensure the protection and provision of parks and green spaces for community wellbeing.

Helen Griffiths, Chief Executive of Fields in Trust, said: “Parks and green spaces play a vital role in people’s health and wellbeing, 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 crisis and, just as they did 95 years ago, they will have a significant part to play in our recovery.

“Yet our research shows that over 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’s why we’re 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 areas where they are most needed.”

The Green Space Index - Fields in Trust's barometer of publicly accessible park and green space provision and distribution - found that, as a region, London has the lowest amount of green space per person, with just 18.96 square metres for each person. Figures recently released by the Office of National Statistics found that Londoners are also the least likely to have access to a garden.

In addition, the Green Space Index also ranks Britain’s regions and nations against a minimum standard of park and green space provision (data sheet attached). London, Yorkshire, and the North East fall well below the minimum score. Scotland continues provide more provision per person than both England and Wales. It is also likely that any future loss of parks and green spaces will disproportionately impact disadvantaged and underrepresented communities who ascribe a greater value to local parks and green spaces than average in the Fields in Trust research study.

The Green Space Index is an annual report from the charity Fields in Trust which analyses provision of park and green spaces. The report was first produced in 2019, and this year is the Index’s second edition. People can find out more about the green space provision close to home by using the interactive web apps on the Fields in Trust website.

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