Ahead of the focus on the importance of nature at the at the COP26 summit tomorrow in her latest blog our Chief Executive, Helen Griffiths, sets out how local action to protect parks can benefit both people and the planet.
The first week of COP26 has rightly focused on the bold actions that are needed to meet the enormity of the challenge ahead. But bold doesn't just mean big and global. Local response to climate change is both crucial and inextricably linked with tackling the health and economic inequalities that are rife in so many of our 'left behind' neighbourhoods. There are valuable contributions to nature and resilience that can be captured on our doorsteps; urban green space can help regulate temperature, improve air quality, support local wildlife, reduce noise and store harmful carbon in the vegetation and soils. This moment represents an opportunity to change the way we think about local green spaces in relation to our health, our wellbeing, our environment and our future. Multifunctional green infrastructure delivering multiple benefits for everyone.
As a charity Fields in Trust has been advocating the value of parks and green spaces for almost a century, consistently seeking to align to the key political drivers of the day. But never have we witnessed the convergence of so many different policy agendas that see these green community assets as vehicles to achieving the changes that are needed to create healthier, happier, more prosperous communities. This convergence is amplified by the elevated currency of parks and green spaces amongst the general public who relied on these places to provide respite and connection with nature during the peak of the pandemic.
"It can sometimes feel difficult to know what we can do locally to tackle the global challenge that is climate change, but committing to preserving the green lungs of our towns and cities is within the power of our local leaders."
Good quality parks and green spaces are not distributed evenly across the country and the new £9 million 'Levelling Up Parks' fund will need to work extremely hard to address that inequity in any substantive way. Seven out of nine regions in England currently fail to meet minimum green space standards, meaning that in densely populated urban areas there is simply not enough green space to go round. This deficit of local opportunities to connect with nature disproportionately impacts lower socio-economic groups preventing access to the benefits that good quality green space can bring. Our research shows that diverse ethnic communities ascribe a higher-than-average value to local green space, but are less likely to have adequate provision close to home. The introduction of the new Green Infrastructure Standards as a part of the 25 Year Environment Plan will help to avoid inequities as part of new place-making but retrofitting existing spaces will be more challenging to achieve and the 94% of parks and green spaces that are not currently protected will continue to be endangered.
A coherent approach to the delivery of parks and green spaces as major infrastructure that support the agendas of multiple Government Departments who currently have no responsibility for funding them is needed. If ever there was a moment to lock in the social and environmental benefits that parks and green spaces generate locally by protecting them in perpetuity, surely this is it? It can sometimes feel difficult to know what we can do locally to tackle the global challenge that is climate change, but committing to preserving the green lungs of our towns and cities is within the power of our local leaders. We urge them to act now to protect their future, before their benefits are lost forever.
Helen Griffiths is Fields in Trust's Chief Executive. She can be contacted by any of the below means.
t: 0207 427 2110
Helen Griffiths is Fields in Trust's Chief Executive and is an experienced and knowledgeable commentator on issues related to parks, playing fields and recreational spaces. Follow Helen on Twitter @hegriffiths.