Study reveals Britain’s greenest cities – and they are all in the south | Parks and green spaces

New study reveals greener cities in Britain could lead to increased urban ecotourism.

The new research found that Exeter has the greenest heart of all British cities, followed by Islington in north London, Bristol, Bournemouth and Cambridge.

In the first study of its kind, the researchers analyzed 68 city centers with at least 100,000 residents, categorizing them by tree cover, vegetation, parks, and sports venues.

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Urban greenery thrives in cities, said lead researcher Jake Robinson, as hotels improve their sustainability and attractiveness by including green roofs and walls that attract butterflies and bees.

“Some of the cities in our study are quite luscious and green, which could lead to a growth in ‘urban ecotourism,’ where people go on vacation to cities to experience the awe of urban nature,” he said.

“Cities are global tourist attractions, and they are increasingly emphasizing their natural areas to enhance their appeal. Improving our urban green spaces also attracts beautiful wildlife. This provides an extra wow factor for visitors but also plays a vital role in preserving biodiversity.

“Green spaces and trees can also reduce noise and air pollution, which can only improve comfort during your city break.”

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The results published in the scientific journal Plus one, revealing that the greenest city centers are all in the south of the country. All of the lowest-scoring cities are in the former industrial regions of northern Britain: Glasgow is rated as the least green city centre, followed by Middlesbrough, Sheffield, Liverpool and Leeds.

“Green spaces have been shown time and again to enhance people’s well-being and are essential to biodiversity, but no one has ever looked at how green our city centers are, despite the amount of time people spend in them each day,” said Dr. Paul Brindley of the University’s Department of Landscape Architecture. Sheffield, a senior author of the study.

In addition to geographic segmentation, the research also revealed a statistical link between a lower greenness score and higher levels of deprivation. “These disparities clearly highlight the need to urgently improve the greenness of city centers at the bottom of the list and to ensure local authorities take action to close the gap,” said Brindley.

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Amal Ghossein, Principal Adviser to Exeter City Management and Environmental Services, said her council had worked hard to protect green spaces in the city. “We have the benefit of a range of open green spaces, including six Exeter Valley parks, managed by the Devon Wildlife Trust, sports fields, 1,400 allotments and a number of leafy cemeteries,” she said.

“Our parks help deconstruct the urban nature of the city, and we recognize their importance to mental health and well-being and help us with our carbon neutral agenda.”

Rowena Champion, executive member of the Islington Council for Environment, Air Quality and Transport, was also pleased with the research. “Islington is one of the most densely populated local authorities in Britain and only 13% of the borough’s land is green space, which is why it is so important that we do the best we can with what we have, to deliver better health outcomes for everyone,” he said.

Wildflowers and modern university buildings
Sheffield city center from an urban wildflower meadow. Photo: Deborah Vernon/Alamy

“We’ve taken bold steps to help make this happen, including planting more than 700 trees last year – boosting canopy cover by 25% – and recently joining the Mayor of London’s Trees for Streets programme, so locals can help get More Trees in the Land.Through the Greener Together program – which has provided funding for 38 community-led green projects – we’re supporting local people to bring their green ideas to life.”

Despite Sheffield’s low rating for greenness in the city centre, the study’s researchers confirmed that the wider city is reputed to be the greenest city in the country overall.

“Sheffield is a fantastic city in terms of green space, with the Peak District on its doorstep and more trees per person than any other city in Europe. However, its center does not rank highly for greenery compared to other urban centres,” Brindley said. “This was one of our most surprising findings. But it highlights why the study is so important and the vital need to identify inequalities in green spaces even in the least visible places and to promote measures to address them.”

If the study is repeated next year, Sheffield could find themselves at the top of the list. Brindley said: “Work is already underway on Sheffield city centre, to bring it in line with its leafy suburbs and vast parks only a short walk away, making it the greenest overall in the UK.”

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