London and southeast England’s most iconic open spaces are worth billions to society
A new report has revealed that the network of internationally important open spaces managed by the City of London Corporation – including Epping Forest and Hampstead Heath – are worth £282.6 million each year in benefits to society, and £8.1 billion over 50 years.
The City Corporation protects over 11,000 acres of parks, forests, heaths, gardens and historic open spaces across London and southeast England for the public good. [See list in notes to editors].
The organisation spends £38 million a year on maintaining its open spaces. Many of these sites operate as charitable trusts and are run at little or no cost to the communities they serve.
They include a wide variety of critically important wildlife habitats, Sites of Special Scientific Interest, Special Areas of Conservation, and National Nature Reserves, and are protected under legislation.
The report, produced by Natural Capital Solutions, calculated the value of the benefits that these open spaces deliver to the public, including through recreation, health and wellbeing, air and water quality, and by removing carbon from the atmosphere.
It found that the overall benefit-to-cost ratio is 16.4 – meaning that every £1 spent on maintaining and protecting these open spaces delivers £16.40 in ‘natural capital benefits’ for the public.
Over 60% of the City Corporation’s sites comprises Epping Forest – Essex and London’s biggest green space, and Hampstead Heath – the capital's largest ancient parkland. Together, they attract around 18.1 million visitors a year, enough to fill Wembley Stadium 200 times over, and greater than the population of the Netherlands. Hampstead Heath was found to provide recreation and health benefits worth £48.3 million a year, and the ability of Epping Forest to remove carbon from the atmosphere to be worth £4.5 million annually.
The report found they are also two of the City Corporation’s highest-performing sites when it comes to delivering natural benefits to the public, including through capturing carbon from the atmosphere, air purification, and recreation and health, with a combined value of £115.6m every year – with both providing important access to nature for a wide range of communities in densely urban areas.
The City Corporation’s sites, which also include Burnham Beeches in Buckinghamshire and West Ham Park in Newham, are home to 58,000 ancient trees and capture over 16,000 tonnes of carbon every year.
In total, they attract over 47 million visitors annually – over three times the number who go to Premier League football matches every season, and almost eight times the number of annual visitors to the Grand Canyon. They host education courses reaching tens of thousands of school children every year.
These open spaces won five honours in 2023’s London in Bloom competition, with a further 15 taking Green Flag awards, recognising them as some of the best managed green spaces in the world.
They are an important part of the City Corporation’s Climate Action Strategy which commits the organisation to achieving net zero carbon emissions in its own operations by 2027, and to supporting the achievement of net zero for the whole Square Mile by 2040.
City Corporation Policy Chairman, Chris Hayward, said:
“Our parks, forests, gardens, and woodlands provide huge community benefits which are often under-recognised. Now for the first time, we can reveal the incredible value they bring to society.
“These sites not only have hugely positive impacts on community health and wellbeing, but crucially, they combat climate change, and underpin London’s offer as a leading global city.
“Businesses across the world are increasingly focusing on the quality of life they can offer their employees, as they reassess what is needed to deliver an attractive, modern workplace environment.
“We know people expect more than just an office when it comes to choosing where they live and work. This shift was already happening pre-pandemic, and now this phenomenon is being embraced by some of London’s biggest international competitors.
“The capital needs to keep pace with this investment in nature and parks to make it a city renowned for its living standards as well as its business prowess.”
Chair of the City Corporation’s Natural Environment Board, Caroline Haines, said:
“These figures show just how much our green spaces mean to the tens of millions of people who enjoy them every year, from those who live and work locally, to international tourists visiting from across the globe.
“The work that goes into keeping these world class sites maintained and looking their best is a significant undertaking, yet – as this report shows – they are worth every penny to society.
“Our commitment to protecting green spaces dates back to the 1870s when we responded to the rapid disappearance of many public open areas – often to private developers – by starting an ambitious project to safeguard these vital sites.
“Today, they play a crucial role in boosting physical wellbeing and mental health, tackling climate change, and benefitting tens of thousands of school children a year through education programmes.”
The report comes as the City Corporation also announces four new broader environment strategies designed to protect, enhance, and maintain its sites.
Each strategy (Nature Conservation & Resilience, Community Engagement, Access & Recreation, and Culture, Heritage & Learning) comes with a unique focus to realise the City Corporation’s vision to ensure the open spaces it manages are rich in diversity, conserve nature, create memories, and enhance the lives of people who visit them.
They were officially launched at a special dinner reception at Guildhall alongside guest speakers including MP for Epping Forest, Dame Eleanor Laing DBE, and former Saracens rugby football captain, Floyd Steadman OBE.
Notes to editors
The City of London Corporation, is the governing body of the Square Mile dedicated to a vibrant and thriving City, supporting a diverse and sustainable London within a globally-successful UK – www.cityoflondon.gov.uk.
Natural Capital is the sum of all the elements of nature that either directly or indirectly bring value to people and the country at large.
The Natural Environment Board sets the strategic direction for the City of London Corporation’s work across its open spaces and natural environment.
The Epping Forest & Commons Committee manages Epping Forest, West Wickham and Coulsdon Commons, Burnham Beeches and Ashtead Common.
The Hampstead Heath, Highgate Wood and Queen's Park Committee manages Hampstead Heath, Highgate Wood and Queen’s Park.
The new strategies:
- Nature Conservation & Resilience – how biodiversity and habitats will be conserved and managed across the City Corporation’s open spaces to secure their future.
- Community Engagement – how the City Corporation will work in partnership with communities to ensure the responsible use and conservation of the City Corporation’s open spaces.
- Access & Recreation – how the City Corporation will conserve, enhance and sustainably manage open spaces’ special natural environments and their heritage.
- Culture, Heritage & Learning – how the City Corporation will develop its culture, heritage and learning offering and develop participation, confidence, connection, opportunity and well-being of, and support from, our priority audiences.
Parks and open spaces managed by the City of London Corporation outside the Square Mile include:
- Ashtead Common
- Burnham Beeches
- Coulsdon Common
- Epping Forest
- Farthing Downs
- Hampstead Heath
- Highgate Wood
- Kenley Common
- Queen's Park
- Riddlesdown Common
- Spring Park
- Stoke Common
- West Ham Park
- West Wickham Common
Parks and open spaces managed by the City of London Corporation within the Square Mile – 180 sites, including:
- Barber-Surgeon's Hall Garden
- Beech Gardens
- Bunhill Fields Burial Ground
- Christchurch Greyfriars Church Garden
- Cleary Garden
- Courtyard of St Vedast Foster Lane
- Distaff Lane Garden
- Festival Gardens
- Finsbury Circus
- Jubilee Garden, Houndsditch
- Portsoken Street Garden
- Postman's Park
- Seething Lane Garden
- Smithfield Rotunda Garden
- St Andrew Holborn Garden
- St Botolph without Bishopsgate Churchyard
- St Dunstan-in-the-East church garden, St Dunstan's Hill
- St Gabriel’s Churchyard
- St Mary Aldermanbury
- St Olave Hart Street Churchyard
- St Paul's Churchyard
- Tower Hill Garden
- West Smithfield Garden
- Whittington Gardens