The Importance of Parks and Green Spaces

In the past couple of weeks the beautiful weather has seen people flocking outside to enjoy the sun. Parks are filled with people picnicking, barbecuing, and generally enjoying the great outdoors, in small green spaces near their offices or larger country parks. In recent years funding has been cut and many parks and green spaces struggle to afford the resources they need, leaving many people asking ‘so what? Parks are just good for somewhere to sit when it is sunny’. There are many reasons, but here is just a small selection of some of the well known – and lesser known – examples as to the benefits of parks.

Protecting Natural Habitats: This one seems obvious, but it is an extremely important one. A great example of how even the smallest of changes to an eco system can have a large impact is that of the introduction of wolves back into Yellowstone Park in America. The Elk population, which had exploded after the wolves had disappeared, declined to more balanced numbers. In a bid to keep themselves from becoming prey they started avoiding big, open areas in which they could be easily hunted. This gave those areas a chance to regenerate and grow; plants started growing along riversides which decreased erosion and this in turn even caused rivers and streams to change course. Other animals started returning to these now bountiful areas and these have all had a vastly positive impact on the ecology of Yellowstone Park in general.

With such seemingly innocuous changes having large consequences it is easy to understand how human actions can have a large and often devastating impact on natural habitats. Therefore it is important to ensure that our parks and green spaces are respected and treated well to ensure the continuation of these habitats.

Wet Weather Control: Unsurprisingly, paved spaces aren’t great at holding water that naturally occurs through rainfall and only increases the damage caused when stormy weather brings torrential downpours and floods. Garland in Texas is a perfect example of how this can be beneficial; American Forests, the oldest non-profit citizen conservation programme in the country has conducted many studies to demonstrate the differences green spaces can make in this respect. One of these studies shows that Garland’s tree cover reduces stormwater runoff by 19 million cubic feet during a major storm event. Not only that, but the trees store approximately 209,000 tons of carbon and removes 497,000 pounds of carbon which are helping improve air quality. Actively encouraging citizens to plant trees in their gardens, it is thought that trees and green spaces could be one of the cheapest ways of helping limit stormwater damage in places which are particularly hard-hit.

Andy Potter / Peak District National Park boundary marker

Andy Potter / Peak District National Park boundary marker

Decreasing the Urban Heat Island Effect: A little thought of consequence of having areas that are covered in dark asphalt and concrete is that they get warm quickly. Urban areas can become noticeably warmer thanks to this effect, and the Urban Heat Island Effect can even increase smog conditions. Both of these lend to much larger problems concerning health and well-being that negatively impacts citizens in urban areas such as poor air quality and the spread of vector-born diseases. Studies show that even a small expanse of green space can reduce general summer temperatures by 1 – 5 degrees which can really make a difference in areas that suffer from extreme summer temperatures.

Parks and Country Parks not only provide natural benefits for wildlife and the ecosystem, but the benefits they can have on the people that use them are also worth considering. Parks are generally free, providing a space for families and people of all ages to spend time together. Parks are the perfect place to have a kick around or go for a run and engage in physical activity. Parks can provide a quiet, meditative space when we need to get away from the busy world around us. The government released its ‘8-Point Plan for England’s National Parks 2016 – 2020‘ which again highlights not only some of their main areas of focus but also further benefits of parks; these include seeing National Parks driving growth in International Tourism, delivering new apprenticeships in National Parks, and also using National Parks to help promote ‘Best of British Food’. With parks, Country Parks and National Parks having a positive impact on not just natural habitats but health, well-being, and even the economy, it is essential that we do not forget just how important these spaces are and ensure we protect them.

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Jessica Howard

Jessica Howard

31 years old, currently living and working in London, UK.

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