Chris Hayward on Green Spaces

Chris Hayward
Credit Jamie Smith and City of London Corporation

When people think of the City of London, they would be forgiven for picturing modern skyscrapers alongside historic landmarks like St Paul’s Cathedral and Tower Bridge, rather than rolling green meadows and animals in forests.

But you will see the City of London Corporation’s historic crest welcoming people to open spaces across London and its neighbouring counties.

We are the capital’s smallest local authority area, but we look after its largest green space, protecting over 11,000 acres of parks, forests, heaths, gardens, and historic sites.

These range from the 180 small City gardens here in the Square Mile, through iconic London spaces like Hampstead Heath, to ancient and sprawling woodlands like Burnham Beeches, and Epping Forest.

They include a wide variety of critically important wildlife habitats, Sites of Special Scientific Interest, Special Areas of Conservation, and National Nature Reserves, and are protected under legislation.

Some were given to the care of the City Corporation after conservation campaigns in the nineteenth century. We took others under our wing after the disbanding of the Greater London Council in the 1980s.

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And now a new report has revealed that these open spaces are worth £282.6 million each year in benefits to society – and £8.1 billion over 50 years

The report, produced by Natural Capital Solutions, calculated the value of the benefits that these open spaces deliver to the public, including through recreation, health and wellbeing, air and water quality, and by removing carbon from the atmosphere.

It found that the overall benefit-to-cost ratio is 16.4 to 1 – meaning that every £1 spent on maintaining and protecting these open spaces delivers £16.40 in ‘natural capital benefits’ for the public.

Our sites enable access to nature in urban areas, provide space for sports and recreation, and improve the air that we breathe.

We look after 58,000 ancient trees, and capture over 16,000 tonnes of carbon every year – a crucial part of our Climate Action Strategy, which commits us to achieving net zero carbon emissions in our own operations by 2027, and to supporting the achievement of net zero for the whole Square Mile by 2040.

In total, these open spaces attract over 47 million visitors annually – over three times the number who go to Premier League football matches every season – and host education courses reaching tens of thousands of school children every year.

Our spaces won five honours in 2023’s London in Bloom competition, with a further 15 taking Green Flag awards, recognising them as some of the best managed green spaces in the world.

So, whether you are having a rest in a City garden, enjoying the views of the Square Mile from Hampstead Heath, or exploring Epping Forest, the excellent staff of the City Corporation – supported by community volunteers – are working hard to help.

To protect and improve these sites, we are announcing a new set of environment strategies to ensure our open spaces are rich in diversity, conserve nature, create memories, and enhance the lives of people who visit them.

These green spaces help make London the special city which it is, offering quality of life as well as quantity of business.

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