By Derek Robertson, Chief executive of Keep

Scotland Beautiful

ACROSS Scotland there is a battle being fought. It is one that at first glance, seems marginal in comparison to the major issues of the day that face us as a country – yet the implications for losing that conflict are significant for each and every one of us. It’s

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the battle for the quality of our country’s parks and green spaces.

It’s a battle that we cannot afford to lose.

The recent TRANSMT festival on Glasgow Green was a timely reminder of the value of major parks to our cities. However, all over Scotland, in communities big and small, the ability to take time out during the day to enjoy a well-kept, accessible and flexible open space is priceless for our health and well-being.

Our physical and mental health is clearly improved by the ability to enjoy light and shade, the changing seasons and the space to walk, run, play, or just sit and enjoy our green spaces. No wonder the NHS in Scotland has paid tribute to our parks as an “essential part” of promoting health and reducing health inequalities. That’s a benefit certainly worth fighting for.

Inevitably pressures on public expenditure have rested heavily on the shoulders of those seeking to balance the budgets of maintaining our open spaces. The challenge of adequately resourcing park maintenance is a continuing and current one. However, the risk to open spaces through civic neglect is arguably a greater threat to our ability to enjoy these green places in the future.

In recent years, we have seen a deterioration of environmental quality, an increase in dog fouling, litter and graffiti. Against this backdrop environmental charities, like the one I lead, Keep Scotland Beautiful, have played a vital role in supporting efforts to sustain our parks, whilst also celebrating the very best of Scotland’s green spaces. This week we have announced that 73 open spaces across the country have met our Green Flag Award standard for this current year. We are delighted, but are not in the slightest bit complacent, at the increase of three in the number of Scottish open spaces receiving the award.

We should all be humbled by the efforts of those who, inside and outside the public sector, work hard to keep these places alive in the face of financial stringency. As in so many areas of life, the role of the charity and voluntary sector in keeping our parks clean and green is significant – whether through formal endeavour, or the individual actions of so many who tidy, maintain and support these vital community assets.

The drive to deliver health equality and social justice is clearly reaching crescendo and nearing the top of our national agenda – and park investment should be a key part of the strategy to drive down inequality. Free to access, safe and clean, and available to all, is a compelling message that will deliver benefits to whole communities.

Now would be a great time for policymakers to recognise that investing in maintaining our parks will yield better health outcomes and wider impacts that are many times more valuable than the initial investment. With spending on maintaining open spaces estimated to form less than a quarter or one percent of public expenditure, there is surely more we as a nation can do.

As we celebrate the achievements of the best parks in Scotland, let’s redouble our national effort to work in partnership to look after them, make them more accessible than ever before, and look forward to the increased sense of well-being that will bring. That’s a battle worth winning.