Hundreds of thousands of people could lose their local green space in the next five years, a charity has warned, as it highlighted the importance of parks for people’s health during the Covid-19 crisis.
Research from green space charity Fields in Trust, in partnership with the Co-op, analysed how future population changes may impact parks and green spaces.
It estimated that 2.7 million people currently lived more than a 10-minute walk away from a public park, and this figure could increase by a further 170,000 in the next five years.
The study, which coincides with Field in Trust’s annual green space index, suggests that the equivalent of 20,000 football pitches’ worth of green space could be lost in the next 20 years due to population growth.
The findings come as thousands of people around the UK continue to utilise local parks and green spaces to exercise and relax during the pandemic.
Helen Griffiths, chief executive of Fields in Trust, said: “Parks and green spaces play a vital role in people’s health and wellbeing, and these benefits have been shown even more starkly during the really difficult times our country has faced in recent months.
“Our local parks and green spaces have been crucial during the crisis and they will have a significant part to play in our recovery.”
Earlier research from Fields in Trust suggested that the wellbeing value associated with the frequent use of local parks and green spaces is worth more than £34 billion each year to the UK adult population.
It said regular park users visited their GP less often, resulting in a saving to the NHS of £111 million every year.
But the charity warned parks and green spaces were at “significant risk” of loss to development as it campaigns to protect them.
One such campaign saw the charity working with the council in King’s Lynn, Norfolk, to legally protect a playing field from development in 2017 after it had been earmarked for housing.
According to the charity’s green space index, now in its second year, London has the lowest amount of green space per person, while recent figures released by the Office for National Statistics found 21% of households in the capital have no access to private or shared gardens.
Fields in Trust and the Co-op are calling on the Government to ensure the protection and provision of parks and green spaces for community wellbeing.
Steve Murrells, chief executive at the Co-op, said: “Covid-19 has proved that green spaces promise long-term benefits to a community’s wellbeing.
“However, despite this, our precious parks and outdoor spaces are at risk – we need to act now.
“At the Co-op, we believe that empowering community groups to save, protect and enhance the places and spaces that really matter to them is the most effective way to safeguard those spaces and we need to remove the barriers that make that difficult for communities.”