I think everyone has been horrified by the recent images of crowded beaches and parks that are then left strewn with litter. In Edinburgh, Ian Rankin took to Twitter to express disgust at the state The Meadows was left in following a recent bout of sunshine. As a student I spent many happy afternoons on the Meadows amongst the mandatory jugglers, tightrope walkers and cricket players, but I don’t remember ever seeing anything like this.  The mess was cleared in the early hours of the morning by refuse collectors and aided by volunteers who first poignantly arranged the litter into the number 2482 – the number of deaths in Scotland from Covid-19. Our green spaces are being put under pressure as lockdown restrictions lift all over the country and there are so many reasons why we need to preserve these areas for future generations.

Throughout lockdown many of us have realised the importance of green space. Some of us are lucky to have gardens like Louise, Cornerstone’s resident green thumb who told me, “My garden has been my ‘sanctuary’ during lockdown, my escape from it all. As a diehard gardener from a very young age, encouraged by my father and uncle who were gardeners, my appreciation of the outside space and the escapism it brings is the best. I hope that other people up and down the country have had the time to appreciate, embrace and enjoy the tranquility and joy a garden or green space can bring”. For others, the most important thing is to get out for a run in the morning to clear your head before starting the day. For many of us I believe the experience of lockdown will permanently alter our relationship with outdoor spaces.

Since lockdown, there has been a surge in the number of people looking to relocate from cities and I’ve even thought about this myself. My houseplants and kitchen herbs are no longer enough, and my fingers are itching for flower borders and a vegetable garden – any kind of garden really! The waiting list for an allotment in my area is at least 4 years. To many people, cities represent opportunity and growth, they are the powerhouses of our economy and contribute 60% of global GDP. However, they can also be places of great inequality and they use 60% of global resources and make up 70% of global carbon emissions.  The UN states that since 2007, more than half the world’s population has been living in cities and this is set to rise to 60% by 2030, or 5 billion people – will you or I still be one of them?

UN Sustainable Development Goal 11 focuses on Sustainable Cities and Communities. Goal 11.7 specifically highlights the importance of access to “safe, green public places, parks, squares and gardens”, especially for women, children, the elderly and the disabled. I think this has also been highlighted throughout the Coronavirus crisis as we’ve all thought more about the vulnerable people in our lives, as we’ve heard about the rise in domestic violence, and closer to home I’ve empathised with my colleagues who have had to deal with their children bouncing off the walls! Greenspace Scotland recorded that over 90% of urban Scots say it is important to have greenspace in their local area. Glasgow actually ranks in the top 3 UK cities based on a review by Ordanance Surveys, the city boasts 13.5% of accessible green space. In fact, the city’s name can be translated as “green hollow”.

It’s well recognised now that outdoor space makes a significant impact on our quality of life, but this is at risk of being eroded due to reduced public spending and increasing urbanisation. A 2016 report from The Landscape Institute stated that “healthy places are restorative, uplifting and healing for both physical and mental conditions.” I think we can all appreciate this given our recent experiences, there are proven links now on the positive impact on our health from being outside in natural blue or green spaces.  Defra estimates that the health system could save £2.1 billion per year if everyone had access to decent outdoor space. It’s important that everyone has the opportunity for activity and exercise, which leads to a healthier and overall less stressed population! The increased air quality in natural areas is also significant, the UN have found that as of 2016, 90% of urban dwellers have been breathing in unsafe air, leading to at least 4.2 million deaths globally. It has been proven that not only does pollution aggravate respiratory conditions, it also lowers resistance to diseases.

Clearly everyone is ready to congregate again since lockdown and this highlights how important public spaces are for interaction and the community (although we should all maintain social distancing practices and follow government guidelines). Access to the outdoors is also an essential part of children’s development and encourages healthy and respectful interactions with nature. I was reflecting on this recently as my husband and I found several caterpillars in our broccoli and it brought back memories of my cousins and I hunting for caterpillars on the sand dunes in Northumberland. My husband loved to hatch monarch caterpillars in New Jersey as a child and so, following this wave of nostalgia we now find ourselves with a jar full of chrysalises in our kitchen that we check on several times a day.

I was interested to find out that green and blue spaces in cities also have an important environmental impact, they clearly increase biodiversity and are essential for the absorption of C02 but also reduce the effects of heat waves, by counteracting the overheating effect of traditional urban construction materials such as asphalt and concrete. Equally, these spaces also absorb heavy rainfall and are a natural water retention field and flood defense. It is essential to maintain these spaces not just to combat further climate change but also to help us cope with the effects of climate change that we are already experiencing.  Finally, there is also an economic benefit to maintaining these spaces, they are valuable because they make cities much more appealing to residents and tourists alike. According to Greenspace Scotland, a well-planned public space can increase commercial trading by up to 40%. A study in Edinburgh found that every £1 invested in the city’s parks and greenspaces delivered a £12 return in social and environmental benefits. It might seem like a distant memory now but these places also enable cities to host large cultural events like the Edinburgh Book Festival in Charlotte Square or the many fantastic music events held in Glasgow.

I don’t think it matters where you find your sanctuary, but the important thing is to look after it.  As mentioned in previous letters, our Responsible Futures portfolios invest in a number of companies that do important work in waste management and recycling. I don’t think human beings will ever stop producing waste, but we can put more thought and innovation into our ways of dealing with this. Following the recent mass gatherings on Bournemouth Beach, over 50 tonnes of litter were collected, whereas on an average June day the council expects around 5 tonnes of litter.  I have previously mentioned the problems with littered PPE, but a further study has estimated around 129 billion face masks and 65 billion pairs of gloves are used globally each month and discarded.  There are also more companies offering take away food and drinks, which increases the amount of single-use containers, including milk bottles full of beer. Photos of the scenes at the Meadows included pizza boxes, various takeaway containers, broken bottles, discarded face masks and thousands of plastic bags.  There is a risk that Covid-19 could wipe out the progress that has been made on reducing single-use plastics but this will be challenged this month throughout Plastic Free July.

Apparently, we are now entering early Phase 3 in Scotland which means outdoor sports courts and playgrounds can soon reopen, as well as zoos and more public gardens. From 10th July we will be able to meet in extended groups outside, with social distancing, which is very exciting. As someone who has gone through lockdown in a tenement flat in Edinburgh, I thoroughly encourage everyone to appreciate your outside space! For those of you looking to get out and about as lockdown eases we’ve been recommended  Summer in the City who are encouraging children to get active and enjoy the outdoors whilst carefully maintaining social distancing. If you’d like something for all the family you might also want to take a look at West End Adventure who are also encouraging you to get outside and have new adventures on land and water!

~ Ellie Maletto

Please note that the content of this letter is for information purposes only and should not be considered as a recommendation to invest in any particular investment strategy or any individual company.

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