A new report has found that the network of “internationally important” open spaces managed by the City of London Corporation, including Hampstead Heath and Epping Forest, provide as much as £282.6 million every year in benefits to society and as much as £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.
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. These 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.
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.
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.