THEY are the quiet places where stressed urbanites can unwind, walk their dogs, play with their children or maybe just sit on the grass and relax.

But in recent years public parks and playing fields have come under assault as their upkeep dwindles due to council cutbacks, while developers sharpen their pencils over plans to throw up housing on once-cherished common land.

Now a charity has said that hundreds of thousands of Scots find themselves marooned away from the pleasure of a walk in the park, trapped on concrete islands where the only option jump in the car and hit the road.

For the first time, campaigners Fields in Trust have used Ordnance Survey data to comprehensively analyse the amount of land given over to parks and green spaces across Great Britain.

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And while the group's Green Space Index found that Scotland is doing better then elsewhere, more than 300,000 people still live over a ten minute's walk from their local parkland.

Less than 10 per cent of this land is protected, the charity said, warning that a lack of legal protection could lead to more being sold off for development.

Now the pressure group is calling on the Scottish Government to do more to ensure that public park space remains freely accessible, and to maintain and improve what remains.

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Angela Lewis, Head of Programmes at Fields in Trust, said: “Parks and green spaces are much-loved by people and provide many benefits to society. But our new Green Space Index shows, for the first time, that there is insufficient access to parks and green spaces and that far too few are legally protected, leaving those unprotected vulnerable to loss or development."

The Green Space Index also ranks Britain’s regions and nations against a minimum standard of park and green space provision.

According to the Index, Scotland performs better than all other nations in terms of parks and green space provision, as well as outperforming all of the English regions.

Scotland provides more green space per person than any other part of in Great Britain, at 45.86 square metres per person, and also has the most legally protected green space, at 2,143 hectares.

In comparison, England falls just below the minimum provision. The average amount of green space per person in Great Britain is just over 35 square metres, less than half the size of a six-yard box on a football pitch.

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Ms Lewis said: “It’s great to see Scotland performing so well for park and green space provision and acting as an example for the rest of Britain. What is concerning is that millions of people across Britain find themselves with not a single park or green space within a ten-minute walk.

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“These findings show that there is an urgent need to ensure the current level of park and green space provision is maintained and review what more can be done to legally protect them for future generations to enjoy.”

The Index covered public parks and sporting grounds, as well as religious sites and allotments.

However, it left out areas such as urban woodlands, residential green spaces, national parks and everyday undeveloped land.

Previous research by Fields in Trust found that access to park spaces helped deliver health and wellbeing benefits, and the charity is concerned that a large number of people who don’t have one nearby could miss out.

It is also likely that any future loss of parks and green spaces will disproportionately impact disadvantaged and underrepresented communities.

The Index follows research by Greenspace Scotland in 2017 which revealed that parks across Scotland are deteriorating in the face of cuts to local funding.

It found that around half of people believed their local public green space had declined in quality since 2011, a marked increase over the intervening six years.

The problem was said to to be impacting on people’s desire to spend time in their local parks. From a peak in 2009 when two-thirds of Scots used their local green space once a week or more, just 43% of people said they visit their local park on a weekly basis.

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The downward trends closely mirror falling local authority budgets, with annual expenditure by Scottish Councils on parks and greenspace down from £190 million in 2010/11 to £167 million in 2014/15.

Julie Procter, chief executive of Greenspace Scotland, said that the figures were skewed by the "narrow definition" used by Fields in Trust, and that the picture was not as bad as it appeared.

She said: "Our own research has found that almost half of Scots live within five minutes of a green space, but not all of those meet the criteria used by Fields in Trust.

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"The real issue is the quality of the green space they find when they get there. Council budgets have fallen and that means they do not have money for staff that they used to have.

"It only takes a spell of uncut grass or overflowing bins to make people think they don't want to go back to their park."

Kevin Stewart, Scottish Government Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning said: “We want Scotland to be the best place possible to live, work, grow up and study in.

“Our parks are places where communities can come together and people of all ages can take part in sport, exercise and play.

“Access to parks and green spaces, and engagement with nature positively enhances our lives and health so I am delighted that people in Scotland enjoy the highest level of green space per person in these islands.”