Skip to content

New research reveals need for urban green space

Visitors on the Bloomtown Trail in spring at Castlefield Viaduct, Greater Manchester, read a sign about the trail which pinpoints blossoming trees in and around Manchester, with colourful spring flowers in the foreground
Visitors on the Bloomtown Trail in spring at Castlefield Viaduct, Greater Manchester | © National Trust Images/Paul Harris

A 2020 report commissioned by the National Trust has shown that the huge surge in people’s use of green spaces during the coronavirus pandemic reveals an inequality of access to nature in many neighbourhoods, towns and cities across the nation. Find out more about the report’s findings and what can be done to address the issues raised.

A need for green

Easy access to quality green space has become an essential need for urban dwellers, particularly in the aftermath of the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The 2020 report by Vivid Economics and Barton Willmore showed that nearly two-thirds of people have appreciated local green spaces more due to Covid and that they want them to be a higher priority for the government.

Some inner-city parks experienced close to a 300 per cent increase in visits over the spring of 2020. The National Trust also experienced unprecedented visitor numbers to urban fringe sites that we care for.

Greening neighbourhoods, towns and cities also brings a host of wider benefits to people’s lives: improving air quality, reducing summer temperatures and surface flooding, and making cycling and walking even more attractive.

A need for investment

The new research published makes a powerful economic case for significant investment across the UK to introduce green spaces to the country’s greyest urban communities over the next five years.

We partnered with the Mayor of the West Midlands, Sustrans, Create Streets, and local council leaders to write to the Prime Minister and urge for a £5.5 billion commitment to an urban green infrastructure fund, to level up access to urban green space as part of his ‘infrastructure revolution’.

Visitors in the garden in June look at the lavender border with trees in the background at Antony House, Cornwall
Visitors in the garden at Antony House, Cornwall | © National Trust Images/James Dobson

This green infrastructure investment would bring about an estimated £200 billion in physical and mental health benefits, to ease some of the strain on local health service providers and improve people’s quality of life.

Over 20 million people would benefit from this, which is nearly a third of the UK population. Local economies would also see widespread job creation, with an estimated 40,000 jobs created initially and over 6,000 permanently.

Now is the time for the government to be bold and ambitious for the future.

A quote by Hilary McGradyNational Trust Director-General

Three steps for reintroducing green spaces

The research mapped the most deprived and greyest areas of Britain. It also looked at the costs and benefits of three steps that are needed to level up access to quality green spaces:

  • Greening urban streets and neighbourhoods, creating street parks and connecting local green spaces to enable safe and attractive walking and cycling options for everyone, whether that’s to school, work, or for leisure.
  • Upgrading poor quality parks and green spaces so they’re fit for the 21st century, with more trees and wildlife, cycling routes, and facilities for communities to boost recreation, play and sport.
  • Creating large regional parks and forests in the urban fringe, on green belt land, connected into the city, to give millions of people the freedom to explore and play in wild natural spaces, without requiring a car.
Visitors taking a selfie and exploring the extensive parkland with the house in the background at Lyme Park, Cheshire
Visitors exploring the extensive parkland at Lyme Park, Cheshire | © National Trust Images/Chris Lacey

Inequalities in accessing green space revealed

The pandemic exposed deep inequalities in access to green space. Nationally, there are 295 deprived neighbourhoods of 440,000 people that are grey deserts, with no trees or accessible green space.

The study found that black and Asian people visit natural settings 60 per cent less than white people. And in the poorest 20 per cent of households, 46 per cent don’t have a car, so urban parks and green spaces are their only real opportunity to have contact with nature. Typically, rural beauty spots are beyond reach for them.

The future of urban green spaces

Examples of the sort of projects that could be created by this national investment include:

  • Turning an under-used side road into a local street park and 'edible walkway' like the one on Freeling Street in Islington, North London, led by the community.
  • New green boulevards and public squares to bring people back to high streets and city centres, as planned for the Millbay area of Plymouth.
  • Green, traffic-free routes from Manchester city centre out to wilder countryside sites via borough towns.
  • A new regional park for the West Midlands covering more than seven towns and cities, and creating hundreds of miles of green space, conservation areas and new cycle routes.

These improvements will also help to make cities and towns resilient to climate change, and to achieve net zero ambitions, with this scale of investment delivering one in 12 of the UK’s tree planting target.

The National Trust has offered to assist the government alongside our partners in delivering green infrastructure improvements for the urban communities who need nature the most.

Volunteer examining a book as part of conservation work in the library at Greyfriars' House and Garden, Worcestershire

Research at the National Trust

We're an Independent Research Organisation recognised by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). Our research takes place in many forms – from the PhDs we sponsor and practical testing of new conservation techniques to the hundreds of research projects we collaborate in or host at places in our care each year.

You might also be interested in

Pink blossom along the side of a canal with the Manchester skyline in the background

Helping communities blossom 

We're working with partners to to give communities more access to nature by planting blossom trees in towns and cities across the UK, so more people can enjoy the beauty and comfort of nature near where they live.

The chalk stream and bridge in winter, Hughenden estate, Buckinghamshire

Are we fit to frack? 

Discover why we joined other leading countryside groups to demand that sensitive places become frack-free zones, in the report Are We Fit to Frack?

Two people smiling, clutching green reeds to create new habitat spaces at Morden Hall Park, London


Find out what we're doing to connect the places in our care to the communities they serve and make sure that everyone can benefit from nature, beauty and history.