12 June 2012

The 'Angst' of Urban Parks

See below for reason for not-so-gratuitous picture of a wet Darcy

Although I may occasionally stamp my foot at not being one of the lucky people who live on the urban/rural edge I am fortunate to live in the best bit of Manchester which has a good provision of parks and natural areas.

Fog Lane Park is within sneezing distance. I go there to fly kites and throw Frisbees, and where I periodically revive attempts at jogging. Twenty minutes walk away is a Fletcher Moss Gardens, the botanical garden where the RSPB was founded no less, and running at the foot of this is the Mersey and a local nature reserve. Once I even saw a stoaty/weasely creature there.

For a resident of Britain’s second city I live within easy access to a variety of green spaces.

In 2010 the government through Natural England, its advisor on the environment, published a set of standards that might be applied to the provision of green spaces for the general populace. Called ‘Nature Nearby’ it is meant to be read by ‘greenspace professionals’ and local authorities. Unfortunately at 98 pages long and only available in PDF it does require a lot of squinting and quite a few cups of tea to get through, but I found it interesting. It is only a set of recommendations, so it’s not going to stop natural areas being concreted over, but I think the idea that someone on high realises the benefits of accessible greenery is reassuring.

Bizarrely, the acronym they have devised for these standards is ANGSt: ‘Accessible Natural Greenspace Standard’. A case of irony overload? Based on previous research on how far people are prepared to travel to the natural environment these are the recommendations:

"ANGSt recommends that everyone, wherever they live, should have an accessible natural greenspace:

  • of at least 2 hectares in size, no more than 300 metres (5 minutes walk) from home;
  • at least one accessible 20 hectare site within two kilometres of home;
  • one accessible 100 hectare site within five kilometres of home; and
  • one accessible 500 hectare site within ten kilometres of home; plus
  • a minimum of one hectare of statutory Local Nature Reserves per thousand population."

Given I feel there is a reasonable amount of nature in my local area let’s see ANGSt applied to my bit of South Manchester.

1. Fog Lane Park covers nearly 19 hectares. The first two criteria are then met.

2. Now things get a little tricky. The nearest 100 hectare park (Wythenshawe) is 5.3km away. It doesn’t take long to drive there, but would involve two bus journeys if I didn’t have a car. Because the children have grown up I haven’t been there for a while, but it does have a big play area, a horticulture centre, city farm, and a statue of Oliver Cromwell.

3. ‘500 hectares of ‘greenspace’ within 10 kilometres’ can’t be met. A National Trust property, Lyme Park, (where Darcy dived into the lake), covers 550 hectares but is 17 km away, and Tatton Park of 400 hectares is even further. It is true that if ever we do have a ‘day out’ that involves a stroll and a cake then we go to these places, but they aren’t spontaneous outings.

4. There are a lot of LNRs around here, and a part of Fletcher Moss is my nearest. However, the ‘one LNR per thousand population’ does seem ambitious. Didsbury has a population of around 14 thousand. I’m not sure how big the tiny woodland that is the LNR is but doubt its 14 hectares.

Overall then I would say South Manchester more or less meets the government’s ideas of accessible green spaces. But it’s nice here. I wonder if people in North Manchester have enough parks of a decent standard. And what of London?

Of course it depends on how to define ‘greenspace’. A topic, you will be pleased to know, of a future post!