Why mapping green spaces matters

It’s been six months since we released OS Open Greenspace, showing publicly accessible leisure and recreations spots in urban Britain, and it’s been fantastic seeing people using the map and finding new places to GetOutside. But did you know that it wasn’t the first greenspace map in Great Britain? Or that there are other important reasons to capture green spaces? Julie Procter, Chief Executive of Greenspace Scotland tells us more.

Greenspaces highlighted in Newcastle

Why greenspaces matter

Greenspaces matter to people and make a big difference to quality of life, improving health and well-being, delivering environmental services, and creating places where people want to live and businesses choose to invest.

We know that greenspaces can provide cost-effective and sustainable solutions to some of the most urgent problems facing us today – our health, our communities and our economy. To deliver these wide-ranging benefits, and to safeguard the management of our open spaces, we need accurate information about the type, extent, distribution and accessibility of greenspace.

Scotland’s greenspace journey

Scotland launched its Greenspace Map in 2011, the first of its kind in the world. But why were we the first? Scottish planning policy meant that planning authorities had to prepare open space audits and strategies, but without a single asset register for the open space they owned and managed, it proved to be quite a challenge.

In 2007 Greenspace Scotland began to work with councils on greenspace mapping characterisation using aerial photos to assign open space types to every OS MasterMap polygon. Councils used the datasets to support the development of open space audits and strategies, but other organisations started to express interest in the data for research and strategic development.

Work started on a consistent national greenspace dataset for urban Scotland, working with 32 Scottish councils to collate, clean and publish the data as Scotland’s Greenspace Map in September 2011.

Working with OS

One of the biggest challenges with any information resource is keeping it up to date. The initial plan for each local authority to keep their data updated quickly proved to be unworkable.

The solution was a new partnership with OS to develop the next generation of greenspace mapping. OS has a huge geospatial database, surveyors on the ground and regularly flies new aerial imagery. Early technical trials indicated that OS would be able to produce the greenspace map and the project was taken forward as the first collaborative partnership with the OS under OSMA.

Edinburgh show in OS Open Greenspace displayed on OS Maps

Initially developed as a Scottish project, in 2014, the Deputy Prime Minister announced a commitment to prepare a map of publicly accessible greenspace in England and Wales. The ground was laid for a fruitful cross-border collaboration, with OS Open Greenspace launching in July 2017.

For public sector users and academics, OS MasterMap Greenspace launched at the same time, and is available through the PSMA and OSMA. This categorises all urban greenspaces into 22 different types and provides vital geospatial data to support planning, management and research.

OS MasterMap Greenspace

Since the launch, most of the attention has focused on OS Open Greenspace and how it can be used to find new places to get out and enjoy the great outdoors. But the real powerhouse is OS MasterMap Greenspace. This detailed dataset categorises every urban greenspace, from private gardens and roadside verges, to public parks, school grounds and woodlands.

In Scotland, the greenspace map has already been used extensively to support work on open space audits and strategies, development plans, resilience strategies and green network plans. Looking ahead, we expect the greenspace data to be instrumental in helping the public sector create and manage health and wellbeing strategies, active travel plans and various environmental initiatives, including air quality, biodiversity, housing, regeneration and flood resilience.

Scotland are publishing an updated State of Scotland’s Greenspace report today and OS’ Geovation Hub developed a greener, smarter cities challenge which concludes in London later this month. It will see developers using geographic information to design innovative solutions to real-world urban challenges.

What started as a simple response to a planning policy requirement to audit open space has developed into a powerful resource for landscape professionals, the public sector, researchers, and the general public. Delivering greenspace mapping for all of urban Britain is a significant achievement, but the exciting part of the project has just begun, as organisations start to use the data to develop greener, healthier and smarter places.

More on greenspace mapping

OS Open Greenspace map is available through the OS website, OS Maps app and as an open dataset.

You can find out more about OS MasterMap Greenspace here.

Read the new State of Scotland’s Greenspace report.

You can read more from Julie Procter on greenspace mapping in the latest edition of the Landscape Institute Journal

1 Response

  1. Great and helpful article, Gemma.

    I’ll definitely be using the OS Open Greenspace map next time I’m looking for an area to explore.

    I’m so glad Scotland were the first to launch. Between this and wild camping, the possibilities are endless!


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