By Bob Marshall

ON my daily park walk it is clear that many more people are now out enjoying our open spaces. We are lucky in this time of restrictions that our towns and cities have a high proportion of parks compared to many elsewhere. Glasgow tops the list in Scotland with 13.5 per cent of its area accessible green space. Paris has only 9%, although Berlin has a massive 40%.

We know that green spaces, even pocket size, are necessary for good physical and mental health. A report by the UK charity Fields in Trust in 2018 found that they help decrease GP visits and calculated that this saves the NHS £111million per year. What better advert for valuing our parks at this time?

But when the lockdown is over will people continue to appreciate these assets or will this green experience, newly found by some, just be an interlude?

The trends for funding of parks in recent years have not been good and could get worse. Money has to go on statutory services such a social care and so it is “non essentials” like parks which get cut. Park keepers are a thing of the past, flower beds have been grassed over and repairs put off.

A report by Greenspace Scotland found that between 2011-2016 spending on parks per head had reduced by 20.1% in real terms. So it not surprising that over the same period they reported that the proportion of citizens very satisfied with the quality of their local greenspace dropped from 40% to only 23%.

There are some positives such as the growth of Friends of Parks and similar groups, with about 50 in Glasgow and 17 in Dundee. These enthusiastic volunteers plant trees, organise walks and fundraise for the occasional bench, but they have little money and no power, so can only be a marginal mitigation of the year-on-year depletion of investment and maintenance.

It is not just the parks we need to think of. Across Scotland there are many community gardens such as at Lochend in Edinburgh where unused ground has been transformed by local residents into a thriving community growing space. Such gardens are invaluable for social interaction and for bringing communities together. And of course there is the added benefit of fresh vegetables.

Examples like these prove that people do want to get more involved, but will only do so if there is a meaningful and observable benefit. The Greenspace Report showed that 50% of people want to have more say in how their open space is managed (rising to 60% for those living in the most deprived areas). So how can we harness this to safeguard and improve our parks and gardens?

One way forward could be for councils and communities to develop joint management plans with a priority for future funding going to hire a paid co-ordinator for each park to increase and support volunteers. One successful example of a paid volunteer support worker is at the Hidden Gardens in Glasgow. Community-based development trusts can also access non-council funds.

So while enjoying the spring blossom and birdsong on our daily walk in the park we can be thinking of how its future is secured post-lockdown. Parks will still need public funding but we cannot rely on our councils doing it all for us. It will be us, as citizens, doing it with the council in a new relationship.

The author lives in South Glasgow and has been active in park issues. He writes in a personal capacity