05/07/2015 19:41 BST | Updated 05/07/2016 06:59 BST

Greening Grey Britain


The past ten years have seen the number of green spaces in UK towns and cities fall to alarmingly low levels. This is obviously a great concern to me, but as the Director General of Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), you'd be surprised if it wasn't. But this problem should also be of great interest to every man, woman and child living in UK cities today.

New evidence has shown that Britain is paving over more front gardens, more quickly than it did a decade ago. Over the past ten years 15 square miles of green land has been lost. More than five million front gardens now have no plants growing in them, 7.24million are nearly totally paved over and four and a half million are completely paved over.

This matters to all of us because of the many health and environmental benefits we lose as each paving stone is laid. You may not know it, but our front gardens, full of plants, are the quiet, unassuming heroes of modern city living.

There is increasing evidence that plants have the ability to help mitigate against one of the major challenges of life in our towns and cities: air pollution. Scientists have found that some plants are able to act as green filters and trap air-borne pollutants in their leaves. Just imagine the cost of creating such a filter and providing them to every household. When you think of gardens in that way it seems inconceivable that we are choosing to bury them under concrete, yet increasing numbers of us doing just that.

But plants don't only help to reduce pollution, they also help to cool urban spaces in the summer and insulate them in the winter. The hard surfaces that are spreading across towns and cities absorb heat during the day and release this energy at night, creating a phenomena called the 'urban heat island effect' that sees the temperatures in cities increase higher than those in surrounding areas. But just a 10 % increase in vegetation is said to be enough to reduce summertime air temperatures, which also means lower household bills, as air conditioning costs are reduced and energy used more efficiently.

Like many other organisations, the RHS is deeply concerned about the impact the loss of habitat is having on wildlife and pollination. It's a very simple calculation, the less green space we have, the less space and food there will be for wildlife. Front gardens have a vital role to play in protecting and sustaining our fauna. A garden with a variety of plants can sustain a range of wildlife including birds, bees, other pollinating insects and mammals - that's why it is vital that we push back the grey tide. We would all do well to remember that without plant life, there will be no human life - when you look at it this way, we need the bees more than they need us!

The RHS has launched a call to action called Greening Grey Britain to do just that. We are asking the nation over the next two years to transform 6,000 hard, cold, grey areas into living, green beacons that will enrich lives and benefit the environment. We want everyone to get involved and invest a little time to make their front garden, their community, a corner of the school playground, a living space. This is not about horticultural excellence, this is about the real difference plants can make to the quality of all our lives.

At the RHS we believe a balance can be struck between the needs of motorists to pave and park, and the benefits front gardens bring, that's why we're providing advice, guidance and tips on the plants and paving that can be used in conjunction with the needs of motorists. To learn more about Greening Grey Britain and to pledge your support visit: