Lockdown and Beyond: Green Spaces Are More Important Than Ever

Green spaces enable social health in a community; a neutral meeting space for all regardless of ethnicity, income and age. Since lockdown, our reliance on them has grown more than ever – Hilary Wood of The Lancashire Wildlife Trust tells us why.

Green space sketch Manchester

The Northern Gateway vision around Manchester and Collyhurst Park. Copyright Adriette Myburgh

Remember the start of lockdown back in March – it seems such a long time ago. Everyone was disconcerted by the sudden changes to all of our lives, many of us felt anxious and stressed. Some people were asked to stay indoors all the time to protect themselves, and some were ill. Remember, it was spring, it was hot, and then our connection with nature came to our rescue. Everyone seemed to be talking about birdsong being louder, flowers and leaves more vibrant, nature more noticeable. 

Our My Wild City project here in Manchester developed a short survey to find out whether people living in and around our city were also taking more notice of nearby nature –  in their streets and gardens, local parks and greenspaces, and in the river valleys. 

By June, over 1200 people completed the survey. 

So, what did they tell us? 

99% of respondents said that being able to connect with nature during lockdown was ‘Important’ or ‘Very Important’ to them. People turned to nature – it was a lifeline for many. People told us that: “[nature] Helps keep me sane, reduces my anxiety”, “Nature calms me, makes me feel well”. One respondent even said: “Nature is saving my life”.

Being in nature makes me feel 100 times better.

More than two thirds of people said they were visiting nearby nature more than usual at this unprecedented time of stress and uncertainty and for many this was local parks, green spaces and Manchester’s river valleys which they were visiting daily. Many Mancunians were relying on that connection with nature, those wildlife experiences, often provided by the green spaces alongside the Rivers Irk, Medlock and Mersey. 

 I’m in walking distance of some greenery, it’s just rough grass but without it I truly believe my state of mind would suffer.

Other respondents emphasised that they have discovered new places that they previously didn’t know existed, as well as feeling much safer travelling around them due to current circumstances. 

Green space west gorton

West Gorton Community Park mitigates the effects of climate change whilst connecting the community.

People need Manchester’s River Valleys

They encourage physical health – moving in green spaces so much more inviting than walking along a busy roadside. They improve mental health. Just being surrounded by leaves and greenery gives us all the effect of biophilia, which means that our stress levels and blood pressure reduces, and that our minds become more alert. Tests have shown that people perform better in exams after sitting in a green space. Green spaces also enable social health in a community – they are neutral meeting spaces for all –  regardless of ethnicity, income and age. 

From providing urban cooling in heatwaves, to flood storage, to improving air quality and raising property prices, there is more research and evidence than ever before on the multitude of benefits provided by our green spaces. 

And our own Nearby Nature research, led by the My Wild City team, has really emphasised just how vital contact with nature is for everyone. If people don’t have their own garden, then these spaces are even more important. 

Nature needs Manchester’s River Valleys

We know that globally –  and in the UK – spaces for nature and wildlife itself are being destroyed. Sir David Attenborough’s recent documentary is almost too hard to watch. Since 1970, the number of animals living on Earth has plunged by half. Hedgehogs and tigers are equally as threatened. 

Manchester is not immune, the growth of our city threatens our nearby nature further.  Manchester’s River Valleys are the wildlife corridors, the blue and green infrastructure, the spaces where the city’s people and wildlife can breathe, move, and thrive. Our My Wild City project is working with Greater Manchester Ecology Unit to identify Nature Networks across the whole city, and the Medlock, Irk and Mersey rivers give us the outline for these networks. We need to link up the river valley green spaces and nature reserves with wildlife friendly gardens, road verges, parks, cemeteries, allotments and more. This will create space for nature, and, space for people to connect with wildlife.

Community planting

Our  2023 vision outlined how we plan to facilitate communities to protect our natural environment.


Right now there is more use, more appreciation, more interest in – and definitely more need for – green spaces than ever before.  Manchester’s River Valleys can be the city’s lifelines for both nature and people. But the river valleys need resources to make sure they are the very best they can be. Covid Recovery Plans need to take account of Mancunians need for nearby nature by investing in our river valleys.

Hilary Wood,

My Wild City Project Officer, Lancashire Wildlife Trust

The Our Rivers, Our City project will play a vital role in protecting, maintaining and enhancing our waterways for wildlife, biodiversity and our own health and well-being. However, by helping our environment, the project will generate much wider benefits that extend far beyond the natural world:

  • Reduce the impact of extreme weather events – flood and heat stress
  • Improve the quality of the air we breathe
  • Create beautiful, sustainable, enterprising neighbourhoods
  • Improve our well-being and quality of life



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