Hidden in plain sight – the value of green spaces

jardin public

By Heather Cameron

They may be something most of us see every day but take for granted – the area of green space we pass on our way to work or frequent in our lunch break. And although we might make use of such spaces on a regular basis, is the true value of them really understood?

As highlighted by a recent report from the Land Trust, green spaces provide even more to society than we often think about.

Wider value

It has long been recognised that green spaces provide multiple benefits to communities and wider society, but there has been limited robust evidence on their wider economic value. The Land Trust report highlights that the services delivered by soil, grass, flowers, trees and water provide society and the economy with significant benefits.

It suggests that several important functions are provided by these green spaces, including:

  • Reducing and preventing flooding
  • Cleaning our water
  • Storing and removing carbon
  • Cleaning our air, reducing air pollution

Such functions help to alleviate costs to local and wider communities, such as to the health service, other public services and local businesses. Previous research has similarly alluded to such benefits.

Independent research by UK scientists in 2011 highlighted the true value of nature in relation to the economic, health and social benefits, estimating that it was worth billions of pounds to the UK economy.

Other research has also shown that green space has been linked to reduced levels of obesity in children and young people, and that access to open spaces is associated with higher levels of physical activity and reductions in a number of long-term conditions such as heart disease, cancer, and musculoskeletal conditions.

The proportion of green and open space is also linked to self-reported levels of health and mental health, through improved companionship, sense of identity and belonging and happiness. And living in areas with green spaces is associated with less income-related health inequality, thereby reducing the effect of deprivation on health.

What the Land Trust’s report does differently, is demonstrate these widely recognised benefits in physical and monetary terms to help create a greater understanding of the economic contribution of well-managed green spaces.

Natural capital accounting

A ‘natural capital accounting’ approach was taken to translate these benefits into financial terms, taking consideration of the physical land, its quality, how it is managed, used and the functions it performs.

Two different parks – Silverdale Country Park in the Midlands and Beam Parklands in London – were used in the study to demonstrate this value. Overall, Silverdale’s annual natural capital value was estimated to be £2.6 million, with a return on investment of £35 for every £1 invested, while Beam Parklands’ natural capital value, based on a 99 year period, has been valued at £42 million – an increase of £21 million since 2009.

Other benefits provided by Silverdale include:

  • Nearly £400,000 per year of flood risk reduction benefits
  • An annual value of £82,000 for the park and its maintenance to retain and purify water
  • A wider annual value of £840,000 of absorbed and stored carbon
  • A potential increase of 113% in local air pollution absorption since 2011

Other benefits provided by Beam Parklands (primarily a flood defence) include:

  • Nearly £600,000 per year of flood risk reduction benefits
  • Nearly £800,000 per year of educational and health benefits to the local community

As two well-maintained green spaces, they indicate the importance of long-term investment.

Final thoughts

Perhaps these financial values will help people to better comprehend the true value of our green spaces. As the report notes, it is important to remember that they are “not ‘one off’ monetary values or price tags” but rather an indication of what our green spaces are worth and their benefits to both society and the economy.

Put simply, as the Land Trust concludes, “green spaces… are valuable to society”.


If you enjoyed reading this, you may also like our previous articles on pocket parks and green spaces.

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Something old into something new: innovations in recycling

photo_1708_20120420

Image by Nicolas Raymond, released under a standard Creative Commons License from http://freestock.ca/

By James Carson

This is Recycle Week 2015, and, in the spirit of the occasion, I’ve been recycling some of the wealth of information contained in the Idox database in order to highlight innovative work by local authorities in the UK.

I conducted a search of our database to retrieve recently published items on innovations in recycling. I found about 70 reports and journal articles, which shows not only how much information our database has on recycling, but also underlines the considerable interest that’s attached to the subject.

The importance of recycling

Many of the resources highlight the benefits of recycling:

  • recycling lessens the impact of waste on the environment
  • it helps conserve important raw materials and protects natural habitats for the future
  • it reduces the amount of waste going to landfill sites
  • using recycled materials in the manufacturing process uses less energy than that required for producing new products from raw materials.

Progress on recycling

The most recent statistics for the four UK nations show a mixed picture on recycling of municipal waste. In England, recycling rates in 2013 rose by  0.1 percentage point on the year before to 44.2%. The comparable figures were 42.2% in Scotland and 46% in Northern Ireland. Wales recorded a more impressive recycling rate of 54%, almost level with Europe’s recycling champion: Slovenia.

The national figures mask a more complex picture. Local authorities are responsible for municipal waste management, and recycling rates vary enormously from one council to another, with the best recycling as much as 66% of waste and the worst as little as 18%.

Innovations in recycling

Many of the recent resources on our database highlight the innovative ways in which organisations are working to reap the benefits of recycling, and to comply with European waste management regulations.

Stackable bins in Newtonabbey

In Newtonabbey, County Antrim, a recycling trial was carried out by a social enterprise to help local authorities meet new EU waste management requirements to separate different types of waste, which came into force in January.

An innovative stackable bin system, known locally as the ‘Wheelie Box’, comprises a 40-litre box with separate compartments for different types of material (a red flap for cans, aerosols and cartons, a green one for bottles and jars, and so on).

The Wheelie Box has been well-received by residents in Newtownabbey, and refuse collectors report that the new system is much easier to use (and lighter on their backs). The scheme is expected to be rolled out more widely to households across Northern Ireland over the next few years.

Pioneering waste management in Milton Keynes

Milton Keynes Council’s recycling record is outstanding. Its 2012/13 recycling rate was 53.5%, well above the English average. Paper, plastics, glass and cans are collected by the council and processed at one of the largest material recycling facilities in the UK.  Now, the council is building on this impressive performance with the development of a fully integrated waste treatment plant to deal with all household ‘black-sack’ waste.

The facility, due to begin operations next year, will incorporate three separate waste management systems:

  • mechanical treatment technology will extract recyclable materials from residual waste
  • an anaerobic digester will treat any food or organic waste to create renewable energy and a compost-like output for use on brownfield sites
  • an advanced thermal treatment facility will turn any remaining, unrecyclable waste into a gas, which is combusted to generate high temperature steam which then creates electricity in a turbine.

The facility is expected to process 132,000 tonnes of municipal waste each year, and to generate £50m of savings against the cost of landfill.

Recycling cycles in Oxfordshire

In 2013, Oxfordshire County Council won a National Recycling Award for its innovative scheme where discarded bikes are quite literally recycled into roadworthy vehicles.  Old and unwanted bicycles are collected at a local household waste recycling centre (HWRC), then taken to one of the council’s Early Intervention Service (EIS) sites.  It’s there that qualified mechanics teach young people how to strip down, repair and rebuild the bikes. As Materials Recycling World reported, the initiative is not only having a transformative effect on the bicycles:

“One young person attending the Hub repaired six bicycles for friends and family, and had gone from being unemployed to starting an apprenticeship, none of which would have been possible without the supply of bikes from the HWRC.”

These initiatives offer just a flavour of the many innovative schemes devoted to recycling. But they demonstrate that the impacts of recycling are not only environmental, but also social and economic.


 

The Idox Information Service can give you access to a wealth of further information on environmental issues – to find out more on how to become a member, contact us.

 Further reading*

Going separate ways (dry recyclables in England and Wales)
State of the union (waste management approaches in UK)
Information drive for those non-recycling residents
Stacking up (dry recyclables in Newtonabbey)
All systems go in Milton Keynes (innovative waste treatment plant)
A real circular economy (recycling bikes and providing training for young people)

*Some resources may only be available to members of the Idox Information Service

The ‘f’ word (fracking): crucial future energy source or greatest threat to the countryside?

Fracking sign

© Copyright Martin Thomas and licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Licence

By Laura Hughes

Fracking hasn’t been out of the headlines recently, particularly since the UK Government gave the green light for fracking across many parts of the country, including in national parks and other protected areas in ‘exceptional circumstances’.

Those in favour argue that fracking offers great opportunities to stabilise the country’s energy market and develop regional economies. Those against fracking claim that the environmental and health impacts are far too great, or too uncertain, to justify the process. So, what’s fracking really all about?

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The positive paybacks of clearing the air

Industrial chimneys

by James Carson

Two reports published last week highlight the potential benefits of policies for reducing carbon emissions and tackling climate change.

In the most detailed assessment to date of the interwoven effects of climate policy on the economy, air pollution, and health, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) claim that a reduction in carbon emissions could significantly cut the rates of conditions such as asthma and lung disease. The MIT researchers suggest that some carbon-cutting policies could be so effective that they would save more money than the cost of implementation.

“Carbon-reduction policies significantly improve air quality,” explained Noelle Selin, an assistant professor at MIT and co-author of the study. “In fact, policies aimed at cutting carbon emissions improve air quality by a similar amount as policies specifically targeting air pollution.”

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