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Are Councils sacrificing our health?

How much do you use your local park or open space? If you live in a rural area, the answer is likely to be never or not very much, because you have lots of accessible countryside on your doorstep. However, if you live in a town or city, the answer is more likely to be that you use it sometimes or regularly.

This is Love Parks Week and social media is full of people who do love their local park (#LoveParks), whether for playing football or cricket, sledging, boating if there’s a lake, yoga, running or walking the dog. Parks may be social, serene or busy places, but they all offer an area of green space where people who live surrounded by bricks and concrete can reconnect with nature.

Our parks were developed by people who knew the value of escape. If you lived in a back-to-back terrace house with nothing but a small paved yard, you needed to go somewhere to walk around and breathe fresh air, and for your children to run around and play. They are the “green lungs” of our towns and cities.

The early parks, constructed during the 1800s, were planned by great designers. Birkenhead Park, designed by Sir Joseph Paxton, is not only magnificent in its own right, it also provided the idea for Central Park in New York. In 1866, a French Head Gardener and landscape architect, Edouard Andre, won a competition to design the new Sefton Park in Liverpool. His creation, with its Palm House, watercourses, grotto, lake and ingenious gravity-fed fountain system is still intact. He went on to design famous parks and gardens across Europe.

All the major industrial towns and cities, such as Edinburgh, Newcastle, Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol and London, had at least one park and often more. The construction of parks tended to be financed, in part, by building large, highly sought-after houses around the perimeter of the park where they overlooked the new landscape. Along with endowments from wealthy supporters, this saved the town concerned having to foot the bill.

In shipping ports, where trade expanded all over the world, wealthy owners vied with each other to bring back exotic plants from their travels. They created extensive collections that allowed study, breeding and experimentation. This has given us many of the plants that are now so common we consider them “native” species.

Sadly, today Parks are seen as an easy target for Council funding cuts, regarded as a luxury that can no longer be afforded. Parks nurseries are being closed, land sold for building and maintenance out-sourced to companies who care little about the plants and all about the bottom line.

The skilled gardeners who once tended these plants are being made redundant or moved to unskilled positions and the knowledge they spent years acquiring is being lost to the nation. We can no longer call ourselves a “Nation of Gardeners” because we’re not. Horticulture is not regarded as a professional career here, as it is in most of the world, so plants are not paid any heed.

Parks all over the UK are under threat NOW and unless people take action to protect their local green space, they will be built on. Once that happens, there’s no going back.

  • Covering green areas with houses, roads and patios reduces water absorption into the soil, so more rain is lost directly into the drains.
  • Air quality is reduced because plants absorb many harmful chemicals like carbon dioxide and give off oxygen.
  • Shade is reduced, so the land heats up and more “urban islands” are created, distorting the balance of temperature both locally and globally.
  • Without somewhere green to relax and reconnect with nature, people suffer more from stress and lack of exercise.

So, your Council may be considering sacrificing your health for their own gain.

“The measure of any great civilisation is its cities and a measure of a city’s greatness is to be found in the quality of its public spaces and its squares.”
John Ruskin

If your local park is threatened by building plans, you might like to consider taking over control from the Council to keep it running. The National Trust have put together an action plan for anyone interested in setting up a People’s Parks Trust.

For more details, go to:


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