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Futureproofing urban parks and greenspaces for climate resilience, people and wildlife

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Abstract

Access to parks and greenspaces is key to public health in cities. How can we futureproof parks and greenspaces to provide climate resilience whilst supporting human wellbeing and biodiversity? Contact with nature is beneficial to physical and mental wellbeing. By 2050 almost 70% of the world’s population will live in towns and cities, remote from wilder natural environments. Nature experience must therefore be provided through access to high quality urban parks and green spaces. The COVID 19 pandemic highlighted the importance of these places for physical recreation and mental escape, particularly for people living in high density housing areas without access to a private garden. Parks and greenspaces also have the potential to enhance plant biodiversity and create valued habitats for urban wildlife including birds and insects. A significant percentage of urban greenspace throughout the world is currently managed as close-mown amenity grass. This is of low biodiversity value, susceptible to ‘summer browning’ and longer-term deterioration due to a poor ‘fit’ with the changing climate. Local authorities and other urban land managers are in a position to address these issues by making changes to greenspace management: delivering climate-resilience whilst supporting human wellbeing and biodiversity.
UWE WHO Collaborating Centre Policy and Practice Note 1
March 2021 page 1
World Health Organization
Collaborating Centre for Healthy Urban Environments
Policy and Practice Note 1
Futureproofing urban parks and greenspaces for climate resilience,
people and wildlife
Access to parks and greenspaces is key to public health in cities.
How can we futureproof parks and greenspaces to provide climate
resilience whilst supporting human wellbeing and biodiversity?
Contact with nature is beneficial to physical and mental wellbeing. By 2050 almost 70% of
the world’s population will live in towns and cities, remote from wilder natural
environments. Nature experience must therefore be provided through access to high
quality urban parks and green spaces. The COVID 19 pandemic highlighted the
importance of these places for physical recreation and mental escape, particularly for
people living in high density housing areas without access to a private garden. Parks and
greenspaces also have the potential to enhance plant biodiversity and create valued
habitats for urban wildlife including birds and insects. A significant percentage of urban
greenspace throughout the world is currently managed as close-mown amenity grass.
This is of low biodiversity value, susceptible to ‘summer browning’ and longer-term
deterioration due to a poor ‘fit’ with the changing climate. Local authorities and other
urban land managers are in a position to address these issues by making changes to
greenspace management: delivering climate-resilience whilst supporting human
wellbeing and biodiversity.
UWE WHO Collaborating Centre Policy and Practice Note 1
March 2021 page 2
Climate-resilient planting for people and wildlife
As climate-change combines with urban heat island effects in towns and cities throughout the world,
many areas are suffering increasing summer temperatures and aridity, combined with the increased risk
of flooding due to erratic rainfall events.
Findings from our research in the UK have shown that:
Planting trees in urban areas mitigates climate change1 by absorbing carbon, shading streets, pavements and
people, reducing temperatures by evapo-transpirative cooling and reducing flood risk (reducing the volume
and speed of flooding by intercepting water on leaves, absorbing water through roots, promoting infiltration
of rainwater).
Futureproofing parks and greenspaces can be achieved by sourcing trees and other plants (shrubs and
herbaceous flowering plants) from warmer climates. These are more resilient and better-adapted to the
warming climate than the ones we have traditionally used1.
In the UK 75% research2 participants would be happy for non-native trees, shrubs and herbaceous planting to
be introduced in parks and gardens if these were better-adapted to the changing climate than species
currently used.
People’s knowledge and awareness of the implications of climate change are directly related to their
educational qualifications3.
People are also positive about the appearance of non-native trees, shrubs and herbaceous flowering plants in
urban parks and gardens2.
Non-native plants such as the late flowering meadow species Coreopsis tinctoria (Plains Coreopsis) also
provide wildlife benefits4 in the form of nectar and pollen, after native species have finished flowering.
What type of planting? The importance of colour and naturalness
There is now clear evidence that that different types of nature and planting in urban parks and green
spaces provoke different human reactions and provide specific benefits for wildlife butterflies, bees
and other insects.
Why is colour important to people?
The colour of plant foliage (leaves) and flowers has been shown to provoke particular human responses.
Findings from our research in the UK have shown that:
Participants walking through woodlands, shrubs and herbaceous planting in public parks, green spaces and
institutional gardens in England5, considered planting with a flower cover of 27% or above significantly more
attractive than that with a lower percentage flower cover. Most people found colourful flowering plants
stimulating and exciting.
People particularly appreciate woodlands with a colourful, flowering herbaceous ground layer.6
The seasonal colour-change in woodland foliage is valued by the public6.
Green vegetation is the best for supporting people’s mental restoration and relaxation5.
Most members of the public cannot identify biodiversity accurately at the species level, and often use flower
colour as a cue for estimating plant species diversity4,7.
Why is structural naturalness important for people and wildlife?
Over the past 20 years there has been an increasing trend across Europe and other parts of the world to
manage parks and greenspaces less intensively, with areas of taller-growing semi-natural grasses and
wildflower meadows. This is partly in response to an increased understanding of the benefits of urban
grassland for people and wildlife
8
, to support dwindling invertebrate biodiversity. It has coincided with a
UWE WHO Collaborating Centre Policy and Practice Note 1
March 2021 page 3
time when austerity makes any alternative impossible in many urban green spaces. In many urban parks
this has involved seeding new areas of flowering perennial and annual meadows. Perennial meadows
comprise of grasses and flower species which flower each year and can be cut back once or more during
the year. Annual meadows consist of flower species which flower once and often contain non-native
species such as the bright orange Eschscholzia californica, (California poppy) and golden Coreopsis
tinctoria (Plains coreopsis).
Findings from our research in the UK have shown that:
The majority of public site users thought that the introduction of perennial meadows to local green spaces
improved the quality of these spaces8.
People preferred naturalistic meadow-style vegetation to traditional herbaceous and formal bedding styles8.
People preferred highly floral meadows, confirming the role of colour in human appreciation. These also
provide valuable resources and habitat for invertebrates8.
Although the majority of participants were appreciative of meadows, some preferred short-cut grass
immediately outside their homes9.
People like to see ‘cues to care’; neat mown edges ‘framing’ an area of longer meadow or grassland, showing
the area is being managed deliberately, and allowing access9.
Introducing a mosaic of meadows with different heights and species diversity is advantageous to wider
invertebrate biodiversity, although this may make mowing and maintenance more challenging10.
Once people are aware of the value of taller meadows to urban invertebrates they are more prepared to
accept them, even when they may appear brown and untidy, after flowering8.
“Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder”: different stakeholders have
different priorities
A key message for green infrastructure planners and designers is the need to include local stakeholders
in decision-making. Although research has revealed that planting type influences people’s perceptions
and preferences, the way in which individuals and groups experience nature and their needs and
priorities for parks and greenspaces, varies greatly. It is necessary to consider how factors such as sex,
education, migration background, and even being a landscape or environmental professional, have a role
in driving people’s perceptions, values and priorities in relation to urban parks and greenspaces.
Findings from our research in the UK have shown that:
Women found walking through areas of woodland, shrub and herbaceous planting more restorative than
men5.
Women perceived higher levels of naturalness in the planting than men, regardless of the style of planting
they walked through11.
Women demonstrated a stronger preference for meadow style planting over traditional herbaceous and
formal bedding styles than men8.
People working in landscape, environmental and horticultural professionals find spending time in green spaces
less restorative than other members of the public, maybe because this is their usual ‘work’ environment3,5.
These professionals usually prefer a wilder more naturalistic style than other research participants, so need to
be mindful of this when planning and designing green spaces for other people3,12.
People’s perceptions of nature may be related to their migration background. First generation migrants from
Islamic parts of the world where wild nature is seen as dirty and inhospitable often prefer a neater, more
manicured approach to greenspace management12.
People who are already ‘nature-connected’ both appreciate the aesthetic qualities of different green spaces
and feel more mentally restored than the less nature-connected11.
UWE WHO Collaborating Centre Policy and Practice Note 1
March 2021 page 4
How can we futureproof urban parks and greenspaces for climate resilience, people and
wildlife?
Local authorities and other organisations managing urban parks and greenspaces can help by:
Introducing trees, shrubs and flowering plants which are ‘fit for place’ and adapted to the changing
climate. This may mean sourcing species from other parts of the world.
Prioritising plants and trees with colourful foliage and flowers in focal parts of parks and greenspaces
to support human delight.
Leaving some areas on semi-natural grassland in parks and greenspaces to grow longer to support
invertebrate biodiversity. This supports pollinators and provides habitat for other invertebrates,
particularly over winter.
Creating a mosaic of meadows with different heights and species diversity to support wider
invertebrate biodiversity, although this may make mowing and maintenance more challenging.
Framing the edges of longer urban grasslands and meadows to create ‘cues to care’ visible signs of
intentional management practice, enhancing public acceptability.
Providing on-site signage to explain the biodiversity benefits of urban grasslands.
Sowing colourful flowering perennial and annual meadows in areas where human aesthetic
enjoyment is a priority.
Incorporating some late flowering non-native species such as Coreopsis tinctoria (Plains coreopsis) to
extend meadow attractiveness to both people and pollinators.
Further information
This policy and practice note was written by Dr Helen Hoyle from the Centre for Sustainable Planning and Environments and the WHO
Collaborating Centre for Healthy Urban Environments at UWE Bristol.
Useful resources
1Hoyle & Gomes Sant’Anna (2020): Rethinking ‘future nature’
through a transatlantic research collaboration: climate-adapted
urban green infrastructure for human wellbeing and
biodiversity, Landscape Research https://doi.org/ 10.1080/
01426397.2020.1829573
7Southon et al. (2018)* Perceived species-richness in urban green
spaces: Cues, accuracy and well-being impacts. Landscape and
Urban Planning 172 pp.1-10.
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landurbplan.2017.12.002
2Hoyle et al. (2017) Attractive, climate-adapted and sustainable?
Public perception of non-native planting in the designed urban
landscape. Landscape and Urban Planning, 164. pp. 49-63.
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landurbplan.2017.03.009
8Southon et al. (2017)* Biodiverse perennial meadows have
aesthetic value and increase residents’ perceptions of site quality in
urban green-space. Landscape and Urban Planning. 158 pp.105-118
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landurbplan.2016.08.003
3Hoyle, H. (under review November 2020) Climate-adapted,
traditional or cottage-garden planting? Public perceptions,
values and socio-cultural drivers in a designed garden setting.
9Hoyle et al. (2017)* "Not in their front yard" The opportunities and
challenges of introducing perennial urban meadows: A local
authority stakeholder perspective. Urban Forestry and Urban
Greening, 25. pp. 139-149.
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ufug.2017.05.009
4Hoyle et al. (2018)* Plant species or flower colour diversity?
Identifying the drivers of public and invertebrate response to
designed annual meadows. Landscape and Urban Planning 180
pp. 103-113. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landurbplan.2018.08.017
10Norton et al. (2019)* Urban meadows as an alternative to short
mown grassland: Effects of composition and height on
biodiversity. Ecological Applications Sep;29(6): e01946.
https://doi.org/10.1002/eap.1946
5Hoyle et al. (2017) All about the 'wow factor'? The relationships
between aesthetics, restorative effect and perceived
biodiversity in designed urban planting. Landscape and Urban
Planning, 164. pp. 109-123.
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landurbplan.2017.03.011
11Hoyle et al. (2019). What determines how we see nature?
Perceptions of naturalness in designed urban green spaces. People
Nat. 00: 1–14. https://doi.org/10.1002/pan3.19
6Hoyle, H. (2015) Human happiness v urban biodiversity? Public
perception of designed urban planting in a warming climate.
http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/10738/
12Hoyle H. (2020) What Is Urban Nature and How Do We
Perceive It? In: Dempsey N., Dobson J. (eds) Naturally
Challenged: Contested Perceptions and Practices in Urban Green
Spaces. Cities and Nature. Springer, Cham.
https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-44480-8_2
Contact: Helen Hoyle Helen.hoyle@uwe.ac.uk.
Series editor: Louis Rice Louis.rice@uwe.ac.uk
*output from F3UES Fragments, Functions, Flows and Urban Ecosystem Services Project on the Biodiversity and Ecosystem Service
Sustainability (BESS) programme (2012-17; NE/J015369/1)
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
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Human happiness v urban biodiversity? Public perception of designed urban planting in a warming climate
  • H Hoyle
Hoyle, H. (2015) Human happiness v urban biodiversity? Public perception of designed urban planting in a warming climate. http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/10738/