Green and pleasant

The hottest May Day since 1978 – it was for some of us anyway. While those close to the coast flocked to beaches, others headed for the nearest open space. If you’re a city-dweller that probably meant the nearest municipal park, to catch some much-needed rays after the long, grey wet winter.

Spending by councils and local authorities on their public parks can feel a bit like an extravagance in these days of austerity, but actually our maintenance of public green spaces is vitally important for our wellbeing, particularly if you live in a city. Yet all too often we take the public park for granted.

What’s the value of open green parks? Fields in Trust, a charity, has put some numbers on this and they make for surprising reading. Its latest study – Revaluing Parks and Green Spaces – says that parks and green spaces are estimated to save the NHS £111 million a year in reduced visits to GPs. In the UK, it says, a total of £34.2 billion of “wellbeing benefits are delivered by frequent use of parks and green spaces.”

The study is based on a survey of 4,000 UK adult residents, which is a flimsy basis for any report: but intuitively I’m sure that it’s right to make a case for the general human benefits of public parks and spaces.

And if you’re not happy with my intuition then I recommend a much bigger study from 2016 by Natural England, a government body. Spending time outdoors is good for people’s physical and mental health – and there’s plenty of academic research to show this. Seasonal affective disorder and vitamin D deficiency are much more prevalent than imagined. We are unlucky that the seasons don’t bring enough sun, but we can help ourselves by getting out and about as much as possible – and doing all we can to protect our local parks.

John Swinney, Chair