A report published today by the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit at the University of Glasgow reveals there was a marked increase in use of green and open spaces following the initial 2020 lockdown, with greenspace users reporting that it benefited their mental health. However, the survey found there continues to be underlying socio-economic inequalities in use of greenspaces.

The report highlights the importance of green and open spaces for population health and wellbeing. It concludes greenspaces are an essential resource for community wellbeing, which must be protected and prioritised.

Key findings

The Covid-19 Green and Open Space Use in Autumn 2020 report found:

  1. During November 2020, nearly two thirds of adults (63%) reported that they had visited a green or open space in the previous 4 weeks. This was an increase from May 2020, during national lockdown restrictions, when 48% reported visiting a greenspace in the previous 4 weeks.

  2. There were sharp inequalities in visiting green and open space; 71% of those classed as high socio-economic status visited in the previous 4 weeks compared to just 53% of those of low socio-economic status.

  3. For those who reported use of green and open space:

    81% visited a green or open space on one or more occasions in the previous week. The frequency of visits varied considerably by individual demographic group; Older individuals (55+) visited green and open space most frequently. Those aged 18 to 24 years, females and BAME individuals visited green and open space less frequently.

    9 in 10 individuals agreed that being in green and open spaces benefitted their mental health.
  1. Data from mobile phone tracking (Google) can give us a population level picture of park visits. There was a considerable increase following lifting of national lockdown restrictions in May 2020. Visits remained high during the summer months but reduced when restrictions returned in October 2020. Early data from Google shows further marked reductions in park use following the second Scottish mainland lockdown, introduced on 5 January 2021.

Recommendations from the SSR Environment & Spaces Group

The report was prepared for the Social & Systems Recovery (SSR) Environment & Spaces Group which is hosted by Public Health Scotland and brings together stakeholders from national and local government, health boards, academia and third sector.

The SSR Environment & Spaces Group recommend that Scottish Government, Local Authorities, the NHS and third sector:

  1. Ensure the physical and fiscal protection of green and open spaces in Scotland. There was a marked increase in use of green and open spaces following the initial 2020 lockdown period, highlighting the importance of these spaces for population health and wellbeing.

  2. Recognise that increase in use was not equal; socio-economic inequality remains. Action is needed to redress the underlying socio-economic inequality in access to, and use of, public and private open space.

  3. Recognise many people access green spaces at home, particularly older people. This highlights the ongoing need to ensure housing offers access to green space / gardens.

  4. Recognise that those who do use open spaces feel the benefit on their mental health. The extent of reporting these benefits increased considerably during 2020. These spaces are an essential resource for community wellbeing. They must be protected and prioritised.

  5. Use the opportunities offered by Scottish Government policies or initiatives that could promote and improve access to green and open space access particularly for those without access to gardens at home or green space close by:
    • Provide gardens for new housing and retro-fitting of existing provision
    • Ensure access to good quality green spaces within 20-minute neighbourhoods
    • Promote road reallocation for green active travel routes and to provide community green space
    • Address unequal access to green space through open space strategies and play sufficiency assessments
    • Re-purpose vacant and derelict land as community green space
    • Use community wealth building as a driver for transforming local assets, including vacant and derelict land

  6. Act to redress gaps in data and understanding about groups not well covered in current research; those in the most marked socio-economic deprivation, and children (particularly teenage years), are missing from the evidence base in Scotland.

Read the report  |  Visit the MRC/CSO Covid web-hub

See also Nature Scot Enjoying the outdoors: Monitoring the impact of coronavirus and social distancing