Most of us have explored every nook and cranny in our local neighbourhoods in the last 12 months, appreciating local shops and cafes, back lanes and pathways, and those vital, restorative green spaces. 

Rocket science it may not be, but a renewed focus on small neighbourhoods is among the solutions to the dual climate and ecological crises, and it offers a route towards creating a sustainable future.

It is one of the aims outlined in an ambitious blueprint from the Glasgow and Clyde Valley Green Network Partnership. The Partnership, which brings together eight local authorities, environmental bodies and health organisations, identifies priorities and strategies that will accelerate the delivery of “Green Networks” across a large area of the west of Scotland. But it all starts with a single doorstep. 

“The pandemic has really raised up the value of the local environment in people’s consciousness,” explains Programme Manager Max Hislop.  “And I am a case in point. I’ve never spent so much time getting to know my local patch. You come to appreciate the benefits of your local green network and green spaces.”

The Partnership works collaboratively across the public sector in its vision to identify, create, and link green areas throughout Glasgow City Region. The plan is to have a green network linking communities to the places we work, shop and play in a sustainable way.

Over the last 15 years the Partnership has helped to facilitate a number of ground-breaking projects and now, with a renewed global focus on climate change, green networks and green infrastructure is seen as increasingly important.

As Hislop explains: “It isn’t a silver bullet to the climate emergency. The first thing we should be doing is reducing our emissions and substituting fossil fuels to renewables.  “But nature-based solutions such as tree planting and peatland restoration are part of the solution to the climate and ecological crises that we are faced with.  “And they are really positive solutions that bring many benefits, so it’s a win-win.”

Projects that the Partnership has helped to facilitate – such as the Queens Quay development in West Dunbartonshire and the Seven Lochs Park in North Lanarkshire and Glasgow – address climate change in a number of ways.

Natural thoroughfares encourage people to take up active travel options, stepping out of cars and onto bikes and footways.

As Hislop explains: “One of the big barriers for people choosing to travel actively is the fact that currently they are expected to travel on, or adjacent to, the road. That’s not perceived as safe or pleasant. And it is often quite unhealthy.  “So we are aiming to develop an alternative active travel network, or Access Network, using the region’s existing parks and green spaces, connecting people to places they want to go such as shops, schools, transport hubs, places of work and parks.”

Green networks and green infrastructure also combat climate change by mitigating the effects, and hastening recovery from, extreme weather events. Cloudbursts and flooding will become the norm, particularly in the west of Scotland, and tree roots, marshy wetlands and natural spaces will help to soak up excess water. In summer tree cover will provide extra cooling. 

Creating and managing a wide variety of habitats is vital in encouraging biodiversity – protecting, not only existing species, but also accommodating those forced north as temperatures warm. The Partnership’s Habitat Network will help link up these vital spaces for nature.

In an ambitious planting project, the details of which will be announced later this year, the Partnership will create the Clyde Climate Forest, increasing urban tree canopy cover and forming new woodland habitats across the city region. The whole Glasgow City Region will benefit from the plan that will increase the region’s tree cover to 20%.

Many of the impacts of climate change are financial of course – people’s homes and workplaces may be flooded. Taking action now will help to protect the 1.8 million people who live in the region.  “We’re not saying that green infrastructure is the entire solution, but it’s definitely part of the solution,” says Hislop. “Ultimately, we are all reliant upon the environment. Whatever sector we’re employed in – construction, food production, and everything else – we fundamentally rely on the health of the environment. And it’s important that this region responds.”

Cities all around the world are investing in green infrastructure to address climate issues but these investments also deliver practical benefits to the economy and quality of life, creating places in which people want to live, and attracting talent. Some cities are tackling this head-on, even in the heart of urban areas. Melbourne, for example, has set out a plan to create a city that is made up of a series of interconnected 20-minute neighbourhoods – areas in which all needs are met within a 20-minute round tip on foot or bike.  “Many cities around the world are adopting the idea of a 20-minute neighbourhood and it’s something we want to emulate in Glasgow City Region. Our Blueprint sets out an Access Network that will do just that, and our Habitat Network will allow species to move around the region just as easily.”

As lockdown slowly eases, Hislop is hopeful that people will retain their appreciation of natural spaces, helping to keep green network projects at the top of the planning agenda.  “At one end of the scale, we’re thinking very strategically about delivering something at a regional level,” he says. “The other end is encouraging people to use that environment, because that’s how you realise the benefits. And we all need to get on board to address climate issues and protect nature on our doorstep.”

Watch the Partnership’s animation here:

Brought to you in association with the Glasgow and Clyde Valley Green Network Partnership.