A new research report released by Fields in Trust – an independent charity with over 90 years’ experience protecting parks and green spaces – finds that parks and green spaces save the NHS at least £111 million a year in prevented GP visits. The report, ‘Revaluing Parks and Green Spaces’ forms part of a new strategic approach by the Trust to change perceptions by establishing a baseline for the value that parks and green spaces contribute to health and wellbeing.
Compiled using HM Treasury approved research methodology, ‘Revaluing Parks and Green Spaces’ demonstrates National Health Service savings of at least £111 million per year – a figure based solely on prevented GP visits and not including savings from non-referrals for treatment or prescriptions.
Helen Griffiths, Chief Executive of Fields in Trust, said: “This report clearly demonstrates the economic and wellbeing benefits that parks and green spaces bring to people across the UK. At a time when parks and green spaces are under threat this is valuable evidence that the loss of green space is hugely damaging to people’s welfare.”
The Fields in Trust report calculates that parks provide a total economic value to each person in the UK of just over £30 per year and that the value of parks and green spaces is higher for individuals from lower socio-economic groups and also from black and minority ethnic backgrounds. This means that any loss of parks and green spaces will disproportionately impact disadvantaged and underrepresented communities.
The Fields in Trust Strategy Green Spaces for Good is available to download
The ‘Fair Society Healthy Lives’ (The Marmot Review) 2010, recommended that improving the availability of good quality green spaces across the social gradient would help reduce health inequalities.
The 2010 report concluded that reducing health inequalities would require action on six policy objectives including creating and develop healthy and sustainable places
and communities. The report recommended prioritising policies and interventions that reduce both health inequalities such as:
- Improving the availability of good quality open and green spaces across the social
- Improving the food environment in local areas across the social gradient
London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan has launched a new £9 million fund to create and improve green spaces and encourage more tree planting in London. The Mayor wants to make London the first National Park City with a target of making 50 per cent of the city green by 2050. To do this, his ambition is to plant more trees, restore our rivers, create natural play-spaces for children and green routes to encourage walking and cycling. The first commitment towards this is the Greener City Fund, a grant programme to support boroughs, local communities and environmental organisations to plant more trees and improve our green spaces.
Previous assessments of London’s green spaces have indicated that about 47 per cent of London is green space. This includes: parks and amenity space; the countryside and farmland in London’s green belt; nature reserves; and private gardens. About 20 per cent of London is covered by trees, mostly as integral parts of the city’s green spaces. It also includes trees in streets and other urban parts of the city.
Khan asserts that well-designed green spaces should be multifunctional and offer a range of benefits that support the needs of a growing population. Yet there are many parts of London, especially in densely populated or deprived areas, where Londoners lack green space or have little tree cover. Greening these areas can provide many benefits, including: improving health and wellbeing; providing space for recreation and cultural activities; adapting to climate change; and creating habitat for wildlife.
A City for All Londoners sets out the Mayor’s plans to improve London. The policy document states that London ‘must develop to accommodate more people, jobs and activity. It must also adapt to the increasing threats from climate change. As such, it is vital both for the health and wellbeing of our citizens and for London’s economy to protect and enhance the environment.’
Making London a National Park City
The Mayor also wants to make London the first National Park City. This will be a way to promote his policies, proposals and projects on green infrastructure and give them a common identity. It is how he will engage Londoners and raise awareness about natural environment issues. The aim is to help Londoners make more use of London’s outdoors. It will also encourage them to help green London, whether by gardening for wildlife, volunteering to plant trees, or installing green roofs.
The Mayor’s National Park City programme will include:
- updating London Plan policies to protect green space and encourage greening of the urban environment, for example through green roofs
- support for boroughs and other land managers to help identify and promote the full economic value of London’s green infrastructure, to help build the case for essential investment and maintenance funding
- feeding into initiatives such as the Healthy Streets Approach, to ensure that the full potential of greening to enhance street space is realised
- a package of funding and advice – the Greener City Fund – to help boroughs, local communities, and environmental organisations run projects that plant more trees and improve London’s green spaces.
Greener City Fund
The Mayor has committed £9m to create and improve green spaces and encourage tree planting and management in London.
The Greener City Fund will include three specific elements:
- Strategic green infrastructure projects: the Mayor’s £3m of funding will support strategic green space improvements that will bring multiple environmental benefits. For example, river restoration in parks, which could provide flood water storage, new habitats for wildlife and improved space for play.
- London’s urban forest: City Hall will work with partner organisations, boroughs, Londoners and businesses on a range of projects to help plant and look after trees in London. The Mayor’s £3m of funding will help: create new woodlands; pilot new approaches to supporting tree planting in public space; improve data about London’s trees; and support London-wide projects.
- Community Tree Planting and Green Space Grants: over the next three years, the Mayor has committed £3m to help Londoners plant trees and make our city greener. These community grants will be offered in several rounds. They will involve community groups, charities, schools, boroughs and businesses in planting trees, and improving and increasing green space across London.
The EKLIPSE network is a project funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme that aims to, ‘build a Network of Networks: a virtual community of people that are willing and committed to work with colleagues to make sure their collective knowledge and values on biodiversity and ecosystem services are used to support decisions that impact our environment and our wellbeing.’ EKLIPSE plus the European Platform for Biodiversity Research Strategy (EPBRS) and the BiodivERsA ERA-Net jointly organised a foresight workshop in Brussels in December 2016 on ‘Social innovation and nature-based solutions: What research is needed to face future societal challenges and emerging issues?’
The participatory workshop explored how nature-based solutions (NBS) can be a response to, or a catalyst for, social innovation to address emerging issues in relation to human well-being and health, governance strategies, land planning and management, and restoration. The following document is a briefing paper developed from the workshop’s findings and outputs and highlights the key research needs to best support and promote nature-based solutions through social innovations in response to current societal issues. More information is available here
There is a high potential for NBS to address environmental and social challenges such
as loss of social cohesion, health, social inequity, loss of connection between people and nature, and inadequate governance models. Proposed NBS for example relating to multiple-purpose green and blue spaces in cities could be seen as multi-functional tools to reach many concurring benefits including educational, psychological, social and economic needs.
NBS and social innovation initiatives should be further developed through research on:
- Assessing the effectiveness of NBS especially in terms of co-benefits:
environmental, social and economic, including research on criteria for measuring effectiveness, trade-offs and synergies between impacts and benefits.
- Holistic/systemic and trans-disciplinary processes to be both used and catalysed
by NBS in land, water, city planning and management.
However, there are also limitations for NBS development and implementation and these are not always understood in the same way especially as an NBS should also increase the benefit for the environment and not just ensure it is “doing no harm”. Several articles have compiled information on NBS added value and limits and EKLIPSE has published an impact evaluation framework for NBS in relation to climate resilience in cities (Raymond et al. 2017).
Finally, NBS are not very well known as a concept by the wider public although many NGOs and other stakeholders may already be working on similar approaches under different names, e.g. green infrastructures, greening cities, ecosystem-based approaches, etc. Such initiatives would need more political and economic backing if they are to be used more widely, and bring effective opportunities.
In addition, EKLIPSE has launched a new “Call for requests” that will run until October 2nd.
- Invitation to request knowledge for informed decision-making
Policy and other societal actors are invited to identify topics or evidence needs relating to biodiversity and ecosystem services and of EU policy relevance, requiring in-depth analysis and a consolidated view from science and other knowledge holders. We particularly encourage the building of consortia representing policy, research, NGOs or individual applications from policy or other societal actors.
Interested parties – including consortia – should apply by 2nd October 2017 by following the rules and procedures detailed below. The selected requests will be announced week starting 13th November, 2017 and will be publicized on the EKLIPSE website.
More information on the processes and the EKLIPSE project funded by the EU in H2020 is available at http://www.eklipse-mechanism.eu
- Objective of the call
EKLIPSE coordinates innovative and transparent approaches for science, policy and societal actors to jointly provide the best available evidence leading to better informed decision-making. The topic and/or evidence needs are identified by policy and other societal actors. The objective of this call is to encourage policy and other societal actors to suggest topics and/or evidence needs to be addressed by EKLIPSE.
- Natural capital is a term used to describe those elements of the natural environment that provide benefits for humans.
- In 2015, the Natural Capital Committee, a Government advisory group, made nine recommendations on how to account for natural capital. These included the creating of a 25-year plan for the environment.
- Valuing natural capital in this way can help to manage environmental risks and to inform a wide range of decisions.
- There are a number of challenges to accounting for natural capital including a lack of financial, environmental and social data and the UK’s use of other countries’ natural capital.
It has been estimated that the UK’s population will rise by nearly 10 million in the next 25 years, increasing demands on natural resources. Evidence suggests that degradation of ecosystems will negatively affect human wellbeing. Reports such as the UN’s Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and The Economics of Ecosystem and Biodiversity (TEEB) global reports have highlighted the importance of incorporating the natural environment into national accounting frameworks. One way to achieve this is through natural capital (NC) valuation.
What is Natural Capital?
NC is defined as ‘elements of nature that directly or indirectly produce value to people, including ecosystems, species, freshwater, land, minerals, the air and oceans’. The UK’s national accounts do not consider the depreciation of natural assets and many of the benefits of NC are not included in GDP. The failure to account properly for NC has led to a situation where benefits derived from natural assets are over-exploited for short term gains rather than maintained for their long term benefits. For example, the destruction of woodland to make way for a new railway would yield financial benefits from reduced transport time, but also incur costs from reductions in carbon sequestration, water filtration and recreational use. By assigning a value to these less obvious benefits of NC, advocates argue that they can be more easily incorporated into decision-making processes and that this would lead to better management of our natural assets. Many national and international NC groups exist, including the UK’s Natural Capital Committee (NCC). The NCC was initially set up for three years (2012 to 2015). Its final report made nine recommendations for improving the UK’s NC. The Government response broadly accepted five of these, including to establish a 25-year plan for the environment -recommendations 1, 2, 4, 6 and 9 – see below for details:
Natural Capital Committee Recommendations
The NCC was re-established this year (2016-2020) to provide advice on the development and implementation of the 25-year plan for the environment. The NCC has emphasised the importance of four unfunded ‘pioneer projects’ to Defra to identify good practice and innovative solutions for the plan. These 3-5 year projects include: a ‘Catchment’ Pioneer in Cumbria; an ‘Urban’ Pioneer in the Greater Manchester area; a ‘Landscape’ Pioneer in North Devon; and a ‘Marine’ Pioneer across two sites, one in East Anglia and an additional component in Devon to complement the Landscape Pioneer.
Renewable and Non-Renewable Natural Capital
Natural capital assets are divided into two classes: nonrenewable and renewable.
- Non-renewable assets cannot regenerate within human timescales and so can only be used once. These assets are traded and therefore have a market price, they include fossil fuels (oil and gas) and minerals such as lithium and phosphorous.
- Renewable assets such as forests, fish and peat bogs can provide benefits indefinitely so long as they are exploited sustainably. However, renewable assets are frequently degraded through the unsustainable management practices such as deforestation, over-fishing and drainage.
POST is an office of both Houses of Parliament, charged with providing independent and balanced analysis of policy issues that have a basis in science and technology.
Source: Vandermeulen, V., Verspecht, A., Vermeire, B. et al. (2011) The use of economic valuation to create public support for green infrastructure investments in urban areas. Landscape and Urban Planning. 103:198-206.
With increasing urbanisation and its subsequent negative effects on the environment, the need for green spaces is becoming increasingly recognised. Although it is difficult to define ‘Green infrastructure’, a network of open spaces, parks, waterways, trees and woodland that protect and enhance nature, and provide health and economic benefits, presents a possible solution to this problem. Decision makers need to know that investment in it will provide an economic return at both a regional and a community scale.
Using results from the EU VALUE project (1), the study produced a combined local-regional economic valuation model for assessing green infrastructure investment. At the project level, the study applied a cost-benefit analysis, using the concept of ‘Total Economic Value’, which attempts to capture the value of the different components of natural resources. Costs considered by this approach include land purchasing costs, design and construction costs and maintenance costs of the infrastructure, whilst benefits include production and regulating ecosystem services such as air quality improvement and climate change mitigation, as well as improved health from cycling, reduced accident risks, as well as recreational benefits. At the regional level, a ‘multiplier analysis’ was used, based on an input-output approach to consider not only the positive impact on local industry, but also on wages and the subsequent impact from better wages and job creation on the regional economy.
To illustrate how this two-tier model could be applied, the researchers used a case study of a proposed green cycle route in Bruges, Belgium, which is expected to lead to a 5% increase in cyclists. The example represents only a few aspects of multi-functional green infrastructure – an approach which is aimed at directly improving ecosystem health and resilience and contributing to conserving biodiversity (2). But it represents a type of project that contributes to the health and welfare of urban dwellers and brings environmental benefits to urban areas. Values were calculated for a 20 year timeframe. Examples of costs at the project-level were the construction of the bicycle road, indirect costs arising from tax increases and lost opportunity costs owing to farmers giving up land.
Evaluated benefits included the avoided car costs, tourist expenditure, improved traffic safety and positive health effects of cycling leading to lower health care costs and less absence from work. Alongside this were the environmental benefits effects of improved air quality and climate change mitigation. Using the cost-benefit approach, environmental benefits alone were estimated at €608,894 over 20 years, whilst the total value of green infrastructure at project level was estimated to be €1,707,169, which also included benefits from improved road safety, health and recreation. Regional additional effects were valued at €3,885,723, more than twice as high as the project effects. Most of the regional value is created by the multiplier effect of the investments in the project. The total value of the cycle belt is therefore €5,592,892, when project and regional values are combined over a 20 year period.
The researchers suggest that the model provides a useful complement to traditional cost-benefit approaches by highlighting the indirect economic benefits of green infrastructure. It can help convince stakeholders of the importance of investing in green infrastructure and allow policymakers to balance issues of community and economy growth, environmental protection and quality of life. They highlight that in addition to data limitations, the objectives of the evaluation will define or limit the inclusion of different types of benefits and costs in the evaluation exercise. If full benefits were included, such as stress reduction and emotional benefits, then the outcomes would be more positive, whereas if costs, such as automobile industry losses, were included, then the investment would seem less positive.
1. VALUE (Valuing Attractive Landscapes in the Urban Economy) is supported by the European Commission through the Interreg IVB programme. See: http://www.value-landscapes.eu
2. European Commission’s webpage on Green Infrastructure. See: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/nature/ecosystems/index_en.htm
Source: Vandermeulen, V., Verspecht, A., Vermeire, B. et al. (2011) The use of economic valuation to create public support for green infrastructure investments in urban areas. Landscape and Urban Planning. 103:198-206.
“We believe that greater priority needs to be given to prevention of ill health in public health and social care. All those involved in creating healthy places – public health professionals, planners and landscape architects – need to recognise that landscape has enormous potential to improve our health and wellbeing.”
Source: Honold, J., Lakes, T., Beyer, R. & van der Meer, E. (2015). Restoration in Urban Spaces: Nature Views From Home, Greenways, and Public Parks. Environment and Behavior. 1-30. DOI: 10.1177/0013916514568556.
Urban nature — such as trees and public parks — is beneficial to human health. A number of studies have found that living close to nature can have immediate positive effects on mental and physical health. However, the longer term health impact of urban nature remains poorly understood. This study investigated how exposure to nature affects health in residents of two inner city neighbourhoods in Berlin. The researchers investigated the links between different kinds of urban nature, including green spaces and views of vegetation from the home, and health. To do this, they assessed life satisfaction, perceived general health and levels of cortisol — commonly known as the stress hormone — in hair samples from 32 participants.
Changed patterns of cortisol in the blood have been linked to depression and psychological stress. Over time, elevated levels of cortisol suppress the immune system and can therefore also contribute to other illness. The authors hypothesised that the amount and diversity of vegetation visible from the home would affect health. They also thought that more regular use of public green spaces could encourage better health.
They found that views of vegetation from the home (as assessed by photographs) and the use of green spaces (determined by interview) were linked to the amount of cortisol in participants’ hair. Participants’ hair cortisol levels were lowest when their view was of both a high vegetation quantity and diversity. No significant link was found between the view from the home and self-reported general health or life satisfaction.
When assessing the use of green spaces, the researchers found one of the most frequently visited areas to be a local canal with a highly vegetated trail. People who used this trail at least once a week had significantly lower cortisol levels than less frequent users and reported higher life satisfaction, although they did not differ in general health.
Overall, this study suggests that exposure to urban nature in different forms could be related to lower cortisol levels and better life satisfaction, which corresponds with findings made in other countries and continents.
These results provide important considerations for urban development and suggest that adding diverse vegetation to residential streets and backyards, and developing more urban greenways, has the potential to improve human health. The authors recommend that local authorities use this information when designing sustainable and healthy urban areas.
While the authors do note limitations to the study, including sample size, the methods used to analyse vegetation and the extent to which cortisol correlates with stress and health outcomes, their findings have been reinforced by other research. They also propose that hair cortisol analysis could provide a promising new health indicator for future research.
The Dalston Eastern Curve Garden in east London is a thriving community garden, developed on a small piece of derelict railway land by landscape architects J & L Gibbons, with muf art/architecture and Exyzt. The video shows some of the improvements in community health and wellbeing that the garden has brought, providing an oasis in the heart of a busy, noisy, high-density part of the city, where public green space is severely lacking.
This is the first in a series of Landscape Institute videos on landscape and health, featuring some of the landscape projects that illustrated the 2013 publication ‘Public health and landscape: creating healthy places’.
The Landscape Institute’s report, ‘Public Health and Landscape – Creating healthy places’ states that it’s not only people’s physical environment that affects their health and wellbeing; there are many relevant personal and social factors too. In order to plan, design and manage places so that they positively influence the health and wellbeing of communities, we need to identify and work with all these factors. They are called the ‘determinants of health’, and were first referred to by Dahlgren and Whitehead in 1991 in their landmark paper, ‘What can be done about inequalities in health?’ We use them to underpin the following five principles that we believe are essential to the creation of healthy places:
- Healthy places improve air, water and soil quality, incorporating measures that help us adapt to, and where possible mitigate, climate change
- Healthy places help overcome health inequalities and can promote healthy lifestyles
- Healthy places make people feel comfortable and at ease, increasing social interaction and reducing anti-social behaviour, isolation and stress
- Healthy places optimise opportunities for working, learning and development
- Healthy places are restorative, uplifting and healing for both physical and mental health conditions
Following on from the LI’s focus on landscape and health here are 4 recently published research papers of interest:
- Urban planning and the importance of green space in cities to human and environmental health: http://tinyurl.com/qa7ck9h
- Urban parks and fall walks lead to lower levels of negative emotions and anxiety: http://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/12/11/14216
- Green space and mental health: pathways, impacts and gaps: http://tinyurl.com/js9em72
- The influence of neighbourhood green space on children’s physical activity and screen time: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26419752/