Green space and our health

The evidence for physical and mental health benefits from contact with nature, such as reducing rates of non-communicable diseases is clear.

A range of bodies, including Government agencies, have promoted the potential physical and mental health benefits of having access to green spaces.

The evidence for physical and mental health benefits from contact with nature, such as reducing rates of non-communicable diseases is clear. So are the challenges for preserving and extending urban green spaces.

Green space is natural or semi-natural areas partially or completely covered by vegetation that occur in or near urban areas and provide habitat for wildlife and can be used for recreation. They are many and varied – from tree-covered streets & avenues to squares, play areas, schools, cemeteries, parks, woodlands, nature reserves and allotments.
Sadly, only half of us live close to green space. Green space is expected to decrease as urban infrastructure expands.

Key benefits include:

  • Physical and mental illnesses associated with sedentary urban lifestyles are an increasing economic and social cost.
  • Areas with more accessible green space are associated with better mental and physical health.
  • The risk of mortality caused by cardiovascular disease is lower in residential areas that have higher levels of ‘greenness’.
  • There is evidence that exposure to nature could be used as part of the treatment for some conditions.
  • There are challenges to providing green spaces, such as how to make parks easily accessible and how to fund both their creation and maintenance.

Crisis for the Bristol Environment

Trees, parks and the financial crisis

The recent decisions made by the City Council in response to the drastic cuts made by the government will create a dramatically changed world for the whole Bristol environment. We have got used to our street trees being manicured, our parks being regularly mown and tended, new trees being widely and enthusiastically planted, developer’s plans being closely monitored. We may have moaned about minor inefficiencies, criticised delays and decisions, but we have expected to be listened to and mostly we have been.

It is all going to change. By 2020 Bristol parks are going to have to find their own finance, parks users will have to pay for the privilege of using them and parks groups will have to take over maintenance. Street trees will cease to be pollarded. Last winter leaves were not swept until they had all fallen, and only now have most gutters been cleared. Next autumn sweep your own gutters and keep your own gutters clear, the Council won’t be able to do it!

And it will be no use protesting, shouting, writing rude e-mails to your local Councillor. There is little that they can do. Its put-your-money-time-and-effort-where-your-mouth-is time. Getting out there, talking and co-operating with your neighbours, getting wet, doing the stuff that needs to be done – as many are already doing. There are lots of dangers in this. There will be a degree of chaos, there will be mistakes. But it is also an opportunity to ‘act local’ and show that we are all responsible for where we live, that the parks are our parks, that we value trees and our public spaces, that we don’t expect “them” to solve all our problems.

And there will be some ‘up side’. The natural world is an exuberant world. Things may be less tidy, but biodiversity thrives in messy places. Unswept gutters and untrimmed hedges may cause problems, but we can help ourselves to resolve these issues – and hedge trimmings and fallen leaves makes great leaf mould.

Here is the a “dead hedge” on the downs, rebuilt by volunteer labour last month to help protect the wildflower meadow beside it from joggers; just one example of what self-help can do.

downs-hedging

Who knows, we might even get our urban sparrows back.

Richard Bland  March 2017

Bristol’s remarkable trees mapped

Bristol Tree Forum has just added a new page to our web site. The new Trees of Bristol page provides access to an interactive guide to many of Bristol’s remarkable public tree collections – collections which are accessible to us all in and around the city including Clifton and Durdham Downs, Ashton Court Estate, Kings Weston Estate, Bishops Knoll and many other open and green spaces such as Eastville, St Andrews and Victoria parks.

We aim to help those who love and care for trees to track down and visit any of over 100 locations where trees can be enjoyed. We have already mapped some 15,000 trees (and growing), many of which are within easy walking or cycling distance.

There is also a special Stumps Collection page which builds on Bristol City Council’s trees data and shows all the sites in the city where there is an opportunity for any of us to have a new replacement tree planted. If you are interested in planting a tree at one of these locations, please take a look at our Become a tree champion page and contact us.