On behalf of the Environment and Spaces for Public Health Partnership Group, Public Health Scotland (PHS) has published a summary report on the use of greenspace during the pandemic, based on surveys carried out by NatureScot, YouGov/University of Glasgow (UofG) and PHS.
Use of greenspace during the pandemic increased, with NatureScot surveys finding that 77% of the population visiting a greenspace once a week by the end of 2021, compared to 60% in 2019. While YouGov/UofG surveys registered between 70% and 90% agreement that greenspaces benefited mental health, as they became important venues for exercise, social interaction and stress recovery. However, not everyone experienced these benefits equally.
Before the pandemic, evidence suggested the availability, quality and use of greenspace was unequal across society. People living in the most deprived areas were less likely to live near greenspace and those experiencing higher levels of socio-economic deprivation less likely visit them at all. This was also the case for other groups in our population such as those with a disability or long-term health condition.
The survey findings suggest that during the pandemic these gaps have widened, with data from the University of Glasgow showing greater rises in use of greenspace among more advantaged groups than disadvantaged.
The Public Health Scotland surveys also show the impact specifically on children and young people, with a third of children not visiting any greenspace in the previous week. They also show that as well as having less access to and use of greenspace, families from low income backgrounds reported less positive experiences.
It is important to highlight that in relation to mental health, the gap in reported benefits of visiting greenspace between high-income and low-income groups has closed. This suggests access to greenspace has an important contribution to make in tackling health inequalities.
Ali Macdonald, Organisation Lead for Healthy Active Environments, PHS said:
“There is strong evidence that greenspaces benefit physical and mental health, and more recently we have found its impact on anxiety and stress is particularly strong.
“We also need to remember its importance in healthy child development – children and young people benefit from playing outdoors in greenspace and those who used our greenspaces during the pandemic have demonstrated its importance as a health asset in our community.
“Ensuring the benefits of greenspace that many experienced are not only sustained, but available to everyone regardless of circumstance, is essential or we will create greater inequality.
“This will require a multi-agency response, working in partnership with communities, to improve and promote the use of high quality greenspace for all.”