Oxfordshire’s Greenspace Deprived Neighbourhoods

May 2024

Martha Crockatt

I’m writing this in mid-April; although there has been wind, rain and even hail in the last few days, hawthorn, tulips and forget-me-nots are blooming, bees are starting to buzz and the sun, when it does come out from behind a cloud, is warm – it’s a lovely time to be outdoors in parks, gardens or just walking. It’s easy to take these green spaces and what they offer us for granted, but not everyone has the same access to them. Publicly accessible greenspace refers to areas of mainly natural outdoor space that the public can visit at any time without cost, including parks, nature reserves, playing fields, canal paths, cemeteries and common land – the places that we visit to enjoy exercise, give children a place to play, meet friends, spend time in nature, and so on.

There is a wealth of evidence that spending time in greenspace is good for mental and physical health and wellbeing. We want these benefits to be freely available to everyone across all parts of society, but unfortunately this is not always the case. There is evidence that the health benefits of spending time in greenspace are greater in more socio-economically deprived neighbourhoods, which typically have higher levels of poor health to start with than in more affluent areas. However, these more deprived areas can have less access to greenspace.

With this in mind, I started a project in collaboration with Wild Oxfordshire, Oxfordshire Local Nature Partnership and Oxfordshire CountyCouncil, as well as colleagues in the Leverhulme Centre for Nature Recovery at University of Oxford, to identify neighbourhoods in Oxfordshire that are both socio-economically deprived and lack access to greenspace. The aim in identifying these areas is to help support and prioritise funding and efforts to improve greenspace quantity and quality in these areas, which could benefit most from better access to greenspace.

Using data published by Natural England, we looked not only at how much accessible greenspace is present within local neighbourhoods, but also other factors that can make a difference to how much exposure people can get to greenspace and nature. This included the potential for overcrowding in greenspace, as well as the density of Public Rights of Way, how much of a neighbourhood is man made surfaces and the area of private gardens within a neighbourhood.

Using these factors, we identified 16 neighbourhoods in Oxfordshire that are relatively socio-economically deprived, and lack access to greenspaceaccording to multiple metrics. It’s important to point out that these neighbourhoods have been identified in a purely desk-based study; what the datatells us may not reflect people’s lived experiences, and the data may not be100% accurate. Before making any decisions based on the findings, it’s vital to get out into the neighbourhoods, to understand how accurate the mapping is, as well as how communities use their greenspace and what they want from them. The neighbourhoods identified in the report are all urban – densely populated areas where it is usually not possible to create new parks. We need to explore how to make the most of existing greenspace, so that it works for local communities; we need to protect what greenspace we already have; we need to look for opportunities to increase green infrastructure (street trees, pocket parks, green roofs, etc.), and we need to do this strategically to increase connectivity of accessible greenspace for people and nature. You can read the full report here.

Is there a greenspace in your neighbourhood that you value, or have ideas for how to make more user-friendly for the local community? Larger parks often have a “Friends of” group that you could get involved with. Check out the map on Wild Oxfordshire’s website and find out if there are any community nature groups near you. The website includes guidance on setting up a group if there isn’t one near you, examples of what others have done, sources of funding, and practical stepson how to create space for nature. It’s worth being aware that the County Council is responsible for Public Rights of Way, but that parks and play areas are typically (but not always) run by your local District, City, Parish, or Town council; visit the relevant council website and search for “parks” to find a list of areas that they are responsible for, or you could consider contacting your local councillor about a specific issue. For an interactive way to see where local green space is, visit the England-wide greenspace data on Natural England’s website. Your local council or nature group may also have events such as Community Walks that you can join in, such as these walks run by South Oxfordshire District Council and these in Kidlington. Sign up to Wild Oxfordshire’s monthly email Bulletin, and follow them on social media to hear all the news, training, events, and funding opportunities for nature; Community Action Groups (CAG) Oxfordshire’s newsletter is another great source of information on how you get involved in local community action. However you do it, enjoy exploring your local greenspaces.

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