Wherever you live in the UK, we are fortunate enough to be fairly close to green spaces. Whether you live in London or live in Aberdeen, we are likely to have an amazing park, woodland, countryside or farmland. In fact, only 8% of the UK is classified as urban.
Even in our cities, we are fortunate enough to have access to some incredible green spaces and parks that are great all year round. Green spaces and woodlands, yes even in the cities and towns, are home to some of the UK’s most amazing and diverse wildlife and plants that contribute to the fantastic natural world inside of the UK.
But, green spaces are not just good for nature. They help us out more than we can probably thank them for as well.
What is green space?
There have been many different definitions offered to what green space is, depending on what discipline is defining it. The most concise and obvious is offered by the Denmark Office of the World Health Organization who says that green space is “any urban land covered by vegetation of any kind“.
This could include parks, open spaces, wooded areas, maintained environments and playing fields.
Where are green spaces and areas mostly found?
Apart from the obvious answer of the countryside, the counties with the highest percentage of grassland are Powys, Armagh, Dyfed, Gwynedd and Tyrone. The counties with the highest percentage of deciduous woodland are Surrey, West Sussex, East Sussex, Hampshire and West Glamorgan. And, the counties with the highest percentage of arable land (good for growing crops on) are Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire, East Riding of Yorkshire, Suffolk and Norfolk.
This is comparable with maybe an obvious observation, to the counties of the UK with the highest percentage of urban areas. These are the City of London, the City of Glasgow, Bristol, Greater London and West Midlands.
According to Strike, the city with the greenest spaces in the UK is Edinburgh with 49% of the city being green! Either naturally or built and maintained. That is a huge amount of the city which is covered by green space. Its closest competitor is Glasgow with 30% of the city covered.
Why are they important?
Not only do green spaces, both natural and manmade offer homes to the UK’s diverse wildlife, plant and flowers but it also gives us a space to relax, turn off and spend time away from the stresses of everyday life. This is especially apparent in urban areas where it is renowned for being non-stop most of the time so taking some time away from the tube, the office desk or the computer somewhere green will do you no end of good.
The open spaces and parks in cities also offer a great place to take your children to play sports, go for walks, explore the wildlife in the areas and find new things within nature that they may have never seen before.
There have been recent studies that being exposed to green spaces and to nature is extremely good for your mental health and if you are exercising in it, better for your physical health than exercising in a gym.
According to the Unconventional Route, there are plenty of reasons why you should be exercising outdoors instead of at a gym. For example, it gets boring doing the same old press-ups, pull-ups and runs. A bored body won’t get fit. Exercising outside can help break you out of your routine and help you get creative with your workouts meaning you will see an improvement in the goals you have set.
Exercising outdoors and in green spaces can inspire you to try new exercises, see new sights whilst exercising, get some fresh air and potentially meet new people who may have the same goals as you, all whilst taking in a better view of trees and birds instead of a wall or a simulation of the outdoors on a screen on a treadmill.
Access to the outdoors and green spaces have also been linked with other aspects of improved physical health. Those living in urban areas but are near green spaces are said to have better physical health because the accessibility to green areas means that they are likely to get more exercise and because the leaves, plants and vegetation are helping to absorb pollution and carbon monoxide released by vehicles in cities and nearby. This means there will be cleaner air to breathe, cleaner air to spend time in and you will feel better overall away with reduced smog around you.
Green spaces are also good for our mental health. There has been recent growing evidence that access to green spaces helps to lower stress levels, improves sleep, increases happiness and has positive effects on psychological conditions such as depression and anxiety.
But how do green spaces help to improve people’s moods?
According to Active Learning, even a walk in a green space or in nature can help to release endorphins that help us feel better and happier. Being outside in nature also exposes us to sunlight, when there is any in the UK in winter, which helps to boost our serotonin levels and helps us to fend off seasonal affective disorder (SAD) which can be caused by the colder, darker winter months.
So nature is helping to boost our mood as well by just being there and letting our bodies respond in their natural way.
Nature is also often given as one of the greatest inspirations. Some of the greatest works of art, literature and music have been inspired by nature. You never know, if you spend more time on it, you may come up with the next masterpiece!
Unfortunately, as we have all seen in the news lately, the natural world is in turmoil and large swathes of it are being destroyed regularly. Without the work that nature and green spaces do to help us with our lives, we would be either bored, unhappy, unhealthy or uninspired. With the destruction of so much of the natural world, both in and out of urban areas, it is clear that something needs to be done to help protect it.
What can we do to help nature and green spaces?
If we want to keep hold of the green spaces that so many of us love and enjoy spending time in, we need to start doing more to protect them.
Imperial College London suggests a few ways to help protect the natural world that we can all do. For example, if we were all to respect our local ecosystems with simple things like picking up litter or not dropping it all, then we could make green spaces inviting and useful to everyone.
Another way we can all help to ensure that our green spaces are by reducing the amount we throw away, reusing what is safe and hygienic to do so and recycling where we can and whatever we can. There are plenty of charities that provide free clothes collections if you want to recycle your clothes, so you don’t even have to leave your home whilst you recycle.
Shopping sustainably not only gives you the opportunity to reduce textile waste which then, in turn, creates more waste and harmful products, but by shopping in charity shops you can find something new for your wardrobe at an affordable price.
These are just a couple of ideas of what you can do to help your local green space and the wider natural world by changing one or two aspects of your life. Other ideas include volunteering for a local litter-picking group, cutting back on meat, fish and dairy consumption and using locally sourced products.
Our green spaces and the natural world are so vital to our survival in every sense of the word and it is up to us to ensure that we and future generations can continue using them and reaping the benefits from them.
Tom Gillett is the communications manager at Little Lives UK.