Guest blog from John O’Neil – thinking about the local government elections

John O’Neil runs JONO Design – a graphic design service specialising in designing solutions with Word. He has created infographics for many organisations and projects, including greenspace scotland’s Green Heat in Greenspaces programme. John has a PhD in urban greenspace and previously worked for Scottish Natural Heritage, where his portfolio included greenspace and green infrastructure. In his recent infographic he asked: 'Do greenspaces get enough funding?'

With local government elections taking place on 5th May much of the media debate has focused on politics at a national level. The topics being discussed are often outside the scope of what local government does. However, one leaflet from a prospective local candidate that came through the letterbox asked the question: 'Are we spending enough on parks?' This was surprising as it’s not the usual subject for such leaflets. Perhaps the question reflects the increased awareness of the importance of greenspaces as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns, which is pushing this topic up the political agenda. Which begs the question: do our local greenspaces get enough funding and is this something worth voting for?    

The infographic uses jigsaw puzzle pieces to illustrate that the use, funding, management and maintenance of greenspace are all parts of the same picture. Each piece needs to fit so that people have greenspaces that they can enjoy and benefit from. If one piece is too small or the wrong shape, it adversely affects the whole picture.

Benefits of greenspace

It is well documented that regularly visiting greenspaces and spending time in the outdoors benefits people’s physical and mental health. The Covid-19 pandemic has underlined the importance of having good quality greenspaces close to where people live so that they are able to enjoy the benefits of exercise and of boosting wellbeing in a natural setting. Research and surveys have monitored the change in use of, and attitudes to, greenspace over the last couple of years to assess the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns.

Busier parks and greenspaces

In Scotland, there was a general increase in use of greenspaces as people sought to benefit their physical and mental health by getting outdoors. Research found that four out of five people regularly visited greenspace, with two out of five people visiting parks more than before the pandemic. This trend is expected to increase as almost half of people say they now want to use their greenspaces more in the future.

Declining funds

This increased demand and use puts additional pressure on the management and maintenance of greenspaces. As the number of people using greenspaces has been increasing, there has been a decrease in the funding that public parks receive. The decline in funding continues a downward trend over the last decade, with greenspace funding in Scotland dropping by over a third.

Future funding?

The increase in the number of people visiting greenspaces and the frequency of visits means that more people are aware of and enjoying the many benefits that getting out into a natural setting can provide. Not least among the many benefits is the boost to people’s physical and mental health. However, the increase in use of greenspaces puts pressure on their management and upkeep in order to maintain their quality. The level of current funding and its downward trend do not reflect the increasing importance of greenspace to people’s daily lives.

There is a widening gap between the increase in use of greenspaces on the one hand and the decrease in funding on the other. If we do not adequately invest in our parks, there will be implications for the quality of our public greenspaces, which in turn could have a detrimental impact on whether people continue to want to use them.

Greenspaces and the local elections

Given the increased demand, perhaps now is the time to re-evaluate the funding of our greenspaces, especially to make sure that they are fit to meet the challenges and expectations of the future, and to realise the benefits for our health and wellbeing. As local authorities have a key role in the provision of our public parks and greenspaces, you might want to ask local candidates for their views and perhaps this is something worth considering when we cast our vote in local elections.


Armstrong, A., Brockett, B., Eustice, T., Lorentzon, A., O’Brien, L., Williams, S. (2021) Why society needs nature – lessons from research during Covid-19.

Greenspace Scotland (2020). Parks and Greenspace in Scotland – Covid-19 Survey.

Local Government Benchmarking Forum (2020). Benchmark Report.

Scottish Government (2020). Scottish Household Survey 2020 Telephone Survey Key Findings.

Stewart, D. and Eccleston, J. (2022). Enjoying the Outdoors - Monitoring the impact of Coronavirus and social distancing - Wave 3 survey results (September 2021). NatureScot Research Report 1289.