Nature for People: The Importance of Green Spaces to Communities in the East Midlands of England

Simon Bell

OPENspace Research Centre, Edinburgh College of Art

Introduction

Organisations involved with nature protection or the conservation of bio­diversity are generally interested in wildlife and in meeting the require­ments of legislation on biodiversity. Recently, organisations such as Eng­lish Nature, the government agency responsible for biodiversity protection in England, have been given responsibility to obtain data on how the envi­ronment contributes to people’s social well-being and quality of life.

In urban landscapes, particularly those that have been disturbed by large-scale industrial processes, natural areas defined in strict ecological terms hardly exist. In Britain there is a significant amount of land that has been disturbed to a greater or lesser degree over the last 200 or more years as a result of many industrial processes. Much of this land has been recy­cled for other uses including agriculture, housing, industry, open space, parks and woodlands. In some places natural regeneration into early suc – cessional woodland has taken place but usually quite a heavy series of in­terventions such as reshaping of the land, drainage, the addition of soil or soil forming materials and planting of trees and shrubs have been the pre­ferred methods of restoration to woodland (Moffat 1997). In a number of areas in Britain industrial or extractive land uses have been located in rural areas where the restoration has been able to create links with other wood­lands existing in the landscape.

This chapter explores the importance of nature to the people living in the East Midlands of England, in terms of its social as opposed to biodi­versity or economic value, as experienced through a range of publicly ac­cessible green spaces. The research was undertaken for English Nature by the OPENspace Research Centre based at Edinburgh College of Art/Heriot Watt University. The research project took place over the spring and sum-

Kowarik I, Korner S (eds) Wild Urban Woodlands.

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2005, pp 81-94

mer of 2003 using a combination of qualitative and quantitative research methodologies.

The aim of the project as specified by English Nature, was “to specify the contribution that ‘nature’ in green spaces makes to people’s social well-being by examining the use people make of, and the feelings that they have towards, a selected number of artificial and more natural green space sites distributed throughout the East Midlands”. As this was a regional study, the sites were selected to fall more or less equally in each of the re­gion’s counties.

The East Midlands is a region of mixed land use and landscape. It com­prises the counties of Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Lin­colnshire and Northamptonshire. Lincolnshire is largely an agricultural county with a coastline and Derbyshire includes the Peak District National Park. All the counties apart from Lincolnshire have areas of significant ex­tractive industry, especially deep coal mining and open cast iron ore work­ing. These have left large areas of disturbed land which have often been restored to woodland. Several large cities or towns can be found in the re­gion, with significant proportions of ethnic minorities among their popula­tions. The green spaces available to these populations range from waste land used informally; formal city parks, many dating from the Victorian era; country parks, often established on former industrial land; remnant woodlands now lying within the boundaries of urban areas; nature reserves of woodland, wetland, heathland and coastland; and open upland moorland (in the Peak District).