Urban greenspace and gardens in Scotland

‘Greenspace’ includes public and private gardens, parks and grounds, amenity land, sports and play areas, green corridors, natural and semi-natural areas, allotments and community growing spaces, burial grounds and other functional green areas. Together this represents a wide range of habitats and ecosystems within the urban environment which are valuable to a variety of wildlife.

Urban greenspace by nature is close to where the majority of Scotland’s population live and therefore provides an opportunity for people to enjoy the outdoors and connect with nature in there own neighbourhood.

Greenspace where you live

To find out about the different types and location of greenspace where you live, you could view Scotland’s Greenspace Map.

Scotland’s Greenspace Map is a world first; no other country has mapped its greenspace in this way. This interactive map provides information about the type and extent of greenspace in urban Scotland (i.e. towns and cities with a population of over 3000). It was compiled in 2011 from greenspace data provided by the 32 Scottish Councils.

It categorises greenspace into 23 different open space types (for example, public parks, private gardens, play areas, semi-natural, community gardens and allotments). These types are based on the Planning and Advice Note (PAN) 65 Planning and Open Space. Sometimes one area has more than one type of greenspace, for example, the main (primary) use of the area may be a public park, but within this an area is used as a play area (secondary use). The primary use is shown as a block of colour (the primary code), and the secondary use is shown as an area of coloured hatching (the secondary code).

This project was led by greenspace scotland and made possible through funding from Scottish Natural Heritage, Scottish Government and Forestry Commission Scotland, and the active support of all 32 Scottish local authorities.

Scotland’s Greenspace Map can be viewed as an interactive map and the GIS data can be provided to users with appropriate Ordnance Survey licence arrangements. Further details of how to obtain the GIS data can be obtained from greenspace scotland  .

Open space audit and strategy

To find out further information about greenspace in your area you could ask your local authority  about the open space audit and strategy in your area.

Open space (including greenspace) is important for our quality of life. Scottish Planning Policy recognises this and requires each local authority to carry out an audit and strategy of open space.

What is an Open Space Audit?

The audit identifies, maps and assesses the quality of the open space resource in the local authority area and how it is used. It should also look at how the local communities would like to use their local open spaces in the future.

What is an Open Space Strategy?

The strategy looks at a vision for how the open space resource can be protected and enhanced within the planning system. The ultimate aim is to develop a network of quality open space that is accessible to local people and meets the communities’ needs.

Wildlife in gardens and allotments

Your garden or allotment can also benefit wildlife and make an important contribution towards supporting biodiversity. Due to the disappearance of some habitats, wildlife is becoming increasingly dependent on gardens to find food and shelter. To find out more about how gardening helps nature see our Commissioned Research Report on Growing Nature- the role of horticulture in supporting biodiversity.

The Garden for Life Forum is a partnership of organisations working in Scotland to promote the benefits of gardening for biodiversity and health and well-being.

Garden For Life Forum

What does the Forum do?

We believe we can achieve these aims by:

  • Promoting sustainable gardening as a way of increasing people’s enjoyment and understanding of biodiversity and our wildlife.
  • Encouraging and enabling more people to garden with sustainability and wildlife in mind
  • Supporting the environmental and health benefits of people growing their own food
  • Encouraging research which can inform and support public policy at all levels, for the benefit of biodiversity and public health in Scotland
  • Sharing good practice between the member organisations of Garden for Life, so that we can work together to achieve our aims in the most effective and efficient ways

What else is the Garden for Life doing?

The organisations listed under related links are currently members of the Garden for Life Forum. The Forum meets regularly to discuss and decide on activities and consider ways of supporting the programme.

What does the Forum do?

Organisations belonging to the Forum meet on a regular basis to agree plans and strategies, share information and to work together on projects. They have produced a series of seven free Garden for Life leaflets which are distributed to the public both through garden centre plant promotions, as well as at shows, schools, community events etc. They are also available to download:

  • Garden for Life
  • Garden for butterflies
  • Garden for birds
  • Garden for life in pots and containers
  • Garden for food  
  • Garden without peat
  • Garden for Orchards  

What else is Garden for Life doing?

Gardening Scotland, Ingliston 1-3 June 2012.

Garden for Life was present on the Living Garden stand. This years’ display garden was designed by student Sheila Filsell from Elmwood college and built by students studying HNC Horticulture from Elmwood college.  The design won a silver award and was enjoyed and appreciated by large number of visitors. The design was a Scottish forest with the idea of showing edible layers to encourage people to grown their own food and buy from local suppliers.

There were also three workshops a day on: Orchard trees for Scotland; Creating a Bug Friendly Garden; Keeping the Buzz Buzz in our gardens;Outdoor kitchen cupboard:native plants in the garden;Plants with Purpose- Forest Gardens in Scotland.

Beautiful Scotland

Beautiful Scotland Awards Ceremony & Annual Seminar 2012.

The next Beautiful Scotland Biodiversity Award will be on the 11th September 2012 at Motherwell Concert Hall North Lanarkshire. Scottish Natural Heritage board member Patrick Hunter Blair will be there to present the winners with the Biodiversity Award. The winners will be announced here after the event

The Annual Seminar will be at the Albert Halls Stirling on the 31st October. Garden for Life will be present with a stand. 

The Scottish Natural Heritage Biodiversity Award for 2011 was presented to  Brig in Bloom – Bridge of Earn. The aim of the award is to raise awareness to community groups the benefits of gardening for wildlife.

Engaging with Industry 2011

The Forum held an interesting and productive meeting with the horticultural industry at Victoria Quay in August and discussed shared issues relating to gardening and sustainability. A report on the meeting has been compiled.

Peat and Sustainability Seminar RBGE November 2010

Garden for Life has been promoting peat awareness for some time and encouraging gardeners, recreational and commercial, to reduce /avoid the use of peat and to use alternatives.

At a strategic level it is hoped that these initiatives will contribute significantly to the implementation of the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy.

Gardening for Biodiversity at Home

Scotland’s gardens cover thousands of hectares, so you can make an invaluable contribution to our beautiful country’s biodiversity by gardening with wildlife in mind. Together gardeners across Scotland can make a real impact, for everyone’s benefit.

The related links will take you to a large number of sites that offer all the information you could need to make your garden a haven for you and for wildlife. As a taster, here are the answers to some frequently asked questions (FAQs) about bringing more biodiversity into your garden.

Do all the plants in my garden have to be native species to help improve biodiversity?

No. Having a mix of trees, shrubs, grassy areas, ponds etc can be more important than only growing native species. Many insects, birds and other animals will be able to feed and find shelter in a garden which has many non-native species. However, if you try to include some native species, and avoid hybrid flowers which have no pollen, you will increase your garden’s biodiversity even more. For example, some butterfly species are very choosy about where they lay their eggs – so if you allow some nettles into your garden, you may get peacock butterflies breeding, as well as feeding, in your patch.

What is so bad about using peat?

Peat bogs in Scotland are one of the few ancient landscapes that still look almost exactly as they did thousands of years ago. They are a bridge with our past. Without bogs we would lose astonishing plants like sundews, sphagnum mosses and cotton grass, insects like marsh fritillary butterflies, and spectacular birds like short-eared owls and hen harriers. Bogs are also important carbon sinks, where carbon is stored as peat, preventing it escaping into the atmosphere, where it would increase climate change.

We have lost over 80% of our active raised bogs in Scotland. Peat extraction will reduce this even more. Amateur gardeners use around 70% of all peat used in horticulture. To extract the peat, the bog is drained and the surface stripped of vegetation. All the plants and animals that depend on that habitat are thus destroyed. Once the bog has been mined for peat it will never recover, and another valuable habitat is lost forever.

For further information see:

  • Peatland Campaign 
  • Gardening Without Peat
  • Alternatives to Peat Compost  

I have tried peat-free composts but they just don’t perform as well as peat. What do you suggest?

Peat-free composts are getting better all the time. Many well-known professional gardeners, such as Monty Don, Alan Titchmarsh and Joe Swift, refuse to use peat products in their own gardens. Asked about his attitude to peat, Joe Swift said: ‘There are some gardeners who swear by peat and say that other growing mediums simply can’t compete. I’m not as concerned about individual plant performance as I am about the environment. It boils down to a question of priorities.’

Commercially produced peat-free composts need slightly different treatment to peat, and some gardeners have had negative experiences because they have not realised this. It’s important that the medium is not allowed to dry out, as it is sometimes hard to re-wet. It can also be beneficial to mix home-made compost with the peat-free medium, as this helps to keep it moist, and provides vital nutrients for the plants.

I don’t have room for a compost bin, as I live in a flat. What are the alternatives?

Try a wormery. Some are incredibly small, and will fit into a tiny corner of your kitchen. They will provide you with great compost for window boxes or balcony planters, and can also provide liquid food for watering plants. WRAP will be able to give more detailed information.

I have a compost bin provided by the Council, but it doesn’t seem to be working very well. What should I do?

Plastic compost bins have the advantage of being neat and easy to install, but they can make it difficult to get enough air into the compost. They can also get too wet or too dry more easily. There are a plethora of leaflets about what mixes of ‘green’ and ‘brown’ ingredients to put in to get your compost working well. As a rule of thumb, if it looks wet and slimy put in more ‘brown’ ingredients, if it looks flaky and dry leave the lid off to allow the rain in and add more ‘green ingredients such as grass cuttings or kitchen peelings. Try to give the compost a good stir to get the air into it as often as possible, and be patient – it may take longer to happen, but eventually you will have beautiful, friable compost to use on your garden. WRAP  will be able to give more detailed information.

Can I collect native species of plants from the wild?

The Wildlife and Countryside Act protects wild plants that could be threatened by removal from the wild. It is illegal to uproot any wild plant without permission of the landowner or occupier. In addition, there is an extensive list of endangered species that are protected against intentional picking, uprooting or destruction, unless under licence from SNH (in Scotland). This list contains plants such as bluebell, wild orchids, and yellow rattle. The best rule of thumb is to avoid picking any wild flowers. It is also illegal to pick, uproot or remove plants from nature reserves, MoD property, National Trust or National Trust for Scotland property, or Sites of Special Scientific Interest without a licence from SNH.

There are a good number of plant nurseries in Scotland that specialise in wild plants, many of them doing mail order (see our Gardening Resources page). These are a much better source of wildflowers.

Bee Welfare

There is concern at the decline in numbers of bees, especially honey bees. This maybe due to a number of factors, one of which are threats from endemic and exotic bee pests and diseases. The related links provide information and advice on this subject.


Over the last 50 years there has been a steady decline in the number of fruit trees in Scotland. It is now recognised that the loss of orchards is also a loss for biodiversity as well as the loss of unusual and local varieties of fruit.

Clyde Valley Orchards

The Clyde Valley is well known for its orchards, though these have declined as well. For more information on the orchards of the Clyde Valley see:

  • Clyde Valley Orchard project 
  • SNH Commissioned Report 23: A Clyde Valley orchards survey

Other Orchard Projects and Specialists

There are projects and specialists who are promoting the establishment of orchards in school grounds and other appropriate areas with species of fruit trees that are successful in Scotland.

An example of this project work includes a Survey of traditional orchards in the Forth Valley (2009)   .

Community Lead Orchard Projects

Find out more about community led orchard projects:

  • Carse of Gowrie 
  • Central Core Orchard Network 
  • Clyde Valley Orchard Group    
  • Fruit-full Schools Learning Through Landscapes    
  • Orchard Development Group Crailing Community Orchard 
  • www.scottishorchards.com/ 

Gardening Resources

This resources list is by no means a comprehensive guide to the wealth of information and sources available in Scotland and further afield. Its purpose is to give you a taste of what’s on offer to help you garden for life.

Garden for Life publications to download:

  • Garden for Life
  • Garden for butterflies
  • Garden for birds
  • Garden for life in pots and containers
  • Garden for Food
  • Garden without peat
  • Garden for life: research of support needs for groups undertaking community gardening projects

Other publications

The Scottish Allotments and Gardens Society  , with the Glasgow Allotments Forum, have produced booklets about allotments and biodiversity for Glasgow and Edinburgh, entitled Gardening in Harmony with Nature.

SAGS has produced a report on Growing Scotland 

Plants and seeds

The Royal Horticultural Society can provide a wealth of information on gardening.


There is a huge range of books on all aspects of gardening for food, health and biodiversity. Your local library will have a good selection.

Green Networks

Green networks, including greenspace in our towns and cities, can contribute to biodiversity and habitat networks as well as providing places to enjoy the outdoors. Green networks can help us to connect previously fragmented habitats to create an even more valuable resource for wildlife and people. They can provide opportunities to enjoy nature close to home and provide safe, tranquil off-road access from the doorstep to play space, sports facilities, town centres, local amenities, path networks and the wider countryside. Green networks help to create healthy, attractive places in which to live, work and do business.

Central Scotland Green Network

The Central Scotland Green Network (CSGN) was confirmed as a National Development in the 2nd National Planning Framework and was officially launched on 30 September 2009. We are working with the Forestry Commission Scotland, local authorities and other partners to establish the network. The initiative will include:

  • A significant increase in woodland expansion to further ‘green up’ the area, boost recreation opportunities and contribute to climate change reduction;
  • Restoring vacant and derelict land with aim of regenerating and restoring it to attractive landscapes for a range of uses, including new business;
  • Improved networks for cycling and walking, encouraging more ‘active travel’ to work and school which will also reduce carbon footprints; and
  • Building a strategic network of priority habitats which will improve biodiversity and protect many species.

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