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The Importance of Parks

The Heritage Lottery Fund state of the UK Public Parks report in 2016 shows that there is a widening gap between the rising use of parks and the declining resources available to manage them5. While parks are highly valued by the public - and usage is increasing - park maintenance budgets and staffing levels are being cut.

In the UK there are estimated to be more than 27,000 parks and green spaces for people to enjoy8. There are many obvious benefits of our parks and open spaces, but we take a look at some of the other lesser-known advantages that they bring.

1. Storm water collection

As climate change continues to affect our weather systems, environmental benefits of parks and green spaces start to become more increasingly important. Urban and suburban flooding can be significantly reduced through the network of parks and green spaces, acting as holding areas for water run-off and reducing flow through non-permeable surfaces2. Climate projections suggest more extreme temperature and weather events for the UK, so an effectively managed network of parks and green spaces can help to protect both people and property in the future.

2.The Urban Heat Island Effect

A research paper published by the Forestry Commission shows that parks and green spaces can significantly cool air temperatures by as much as 2-8°C1. An urban heat island effect is caused by a combination of of factors including height and spacing of buildings, air pollution and type of building materials used. This can cause tsignificant emperature differences between urban and rural surroundings. To put this into context, the difference can be higher than the current effect of global warming. Whilst there are many ways to try and reduce this, the most effective methods are with trees to create shade, and permeable surfaces such as parks and gardens.

3. A Place For Children

In urban areas the amount of outside space is forever reducing to meet the needs of space to build residential property. With this in mind, the requirement for parks and open spaces is ever increasing. A British Heart Foundation study in 2015 showed that there has been a large reduction in children aged 5-15 meeting the recommended levels of exercise6. In boys, it was down from 28% to 21%, for girls from 19% to 16%.

4. Mental Health Boost

There are many benefits of parks and open spaces to mental health. The obvious one is excercise, with strong evidence to show that exercise can be a great treatment for depression. A study published in the Journal of Environmental Science & Technology7 has shown that people moving to an area with a higher amount of green space saw an instant improvement in mental health that was sustained for at least 3 years after they moved.

5.Physical Activity

Between 1993 and 2015, obesity prevalence increased from 15 to 27 percent in the UK. Obesity increases the risk of many health conditions including diabetes, heart disease, strokes and cancer. ResPublica found in July 2015 that 61 percent of respondents who said that they had good access to green spaces were satisfied with their physical health compared to only 44 per cent of those who had poor access. Parks and open spaces provide everyone with access to somewhere to exercise. Whether it be simply a walk, cycling or a group activity such as football, cricket or running.

In the ResPublica poll in July 2015, maintenance of existing parks was highlighted as one of the main concerns of respondents. 36% of people selected "less litter and rubbish" as one of the three most important factors in making an area beautiful. Ensuring the correct provision of litter bins is obviously a key part of that, however ensuring litter is collected and picked up is paramount. With budgets being reduced across the country, many community groups such as The Big Tidy Up and Litter Action are organising clean-ups to ensure our open spaces remain tidy.

1.Forestry commission: Air temperature regulation by urban trees and green infrastructure
2.Forestry commission: Benefits of green infrastructure
3.Litter and fly-tipping in England
4.ResPublica - A Community Right to Beauty
5.Heritage Lottery Fund - state of the UK Public Parks report
6.British Heart Foundation - Physical Activity Statistics 2015
7.Longitudinal Effects on Mental Health of Moving to Greener and Less Green Urban Areas
8.House of Commons Communities and Local Government Committee - Public Parks

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