Green Infrastructure for a Greener Wales
What is green infrastructure you ask? Green Infrastructure (GI) is basically a network of green, semi-natural features that are incorporated into our cities, towns and any built-up areas. These can be street trees, road verges, green roofs (growing plants on a building’s roof), community parks, rivers and woodlands etc. This brightens up our ‘concrete jungles’ and provides a whole array of great benefits, including; reducing flooding, removing pollution, increasing our health, increasing property values, and even lowering crime rates (because of the increased surveillance in natural areas and the relaxing effects of green spaces). Importantly, GI also allows us to create a healthy, luscious environment that can support loads of wildlife, allowing us to live more harmoniously with nature!
Road Verge © Jeff Gogarty (see end).
Green Roundabout © Slaunger (see end).
Reducing Flood Risk:
Unlike Green Infrastructure (GI), ‘Grey Infrastructure’ (aka buildings, concrete etc.) does not absorb rainwater, which puts an overwhelming amount of pressure on our conventional drainage systems to deal with the excess water from heavy rainfalls. When they give way, we are then faced with floods. Green Infrastructure, however, increases how much water can be absorbed by the environment (soil and plant roots absorb water, unlike concrete!) which can alleviate the effects of floods and droughts.
With this in mind, you can see how creating ‘green roofs’ on top of buildings will reduce rainwater runoff during a downpour. Can you imagine if every building had one of these? An ideal solution for a rainy Wales!
Example of a ‘green roof’ © Ryan Somma (see end).
Increasing the Health of Us and the Environment:
Ever get that good feeling after going for a walk in the park? Being surrounded by a healthy, green environment undoubtedly has a positive effect on our mental and physical wellbeing. Having easy access to green spaces, including foot and cycle paths, promotes a healthy lifestyle full of outdoor exercise, socialising and learning about local wildlife. What’s more, GI improves the quality of the air and water around us, which not only physically improves our own health but also improves the health of the environment! According to the Wildlife Trusts, the trees in Wrexham alone remove 60 tonnes of air pollution per year, and this saves the NHS a massive £700,000 per year in health costs, including those for lung- and heart-related conditions. These trees also intercept 27 million litres of rainfall every year, reducing flood risk.
On top of this, increasing the green coverage of our cities can increase the environment’s resilience to the effects of climate change! As we know, climate change is happening now, within our lifetime, with more intense storms, drier summers, wetter winters and continuing rising sea levels predicted over the next few years. Increasing the amount of greenery in our cities will help mitigate these effects, because plants extract greenhouse gases from the atmosphere (preventing further climate warming), remove toxic gases from the air, and increase the environment’s ability to absorb water.
We share this Earth with many other animals, and it’s important that we accommodate them, too! GI provides homes for animals, so that they can live in harmony with us in our cities. New woodlands and wetlands can provide refuge for tonnes of remarkable species, including otters, but even the smaller-scale GI such as ‘green roofs’ can provide living accommodation for animals such as nesting birds!
Importantly, GI can also provide connectivity between existing green areas, which can combat the negative effects of habitat loss and fragmentation that animals face. It is also a great way of meeting the targets of Welsh action plans such as the Pollinator Action Plan (increasing plant coverage is great for pollinators) and the Environment (Wales) Act (to halt any more loss of biodiversity).
Otter and Bumblebee – some of the animals that benefit from GI.
GI sounds great! But wouldn’t it be expensive?
…No! Adopting GI into our towns and cities seems to be the most cost-effective way of improving drainage systems, increasing our country’s resilience to the effects of climate change, creating safe spaces for wildlife and improving the livelihoods of communities across Wales, all at the same time. It’s even estimated that the installation and maintenance of Sustainable Drainage Systems (or, SuDS) is about 50% cheaper than that of conventional drainage systems (Wildlife Trusts).
The creation of greener spaces within our cities, a relatively simple idea at its core, could act as one solution to a variety of issues across Wales – a sort of ‘multivitamin’ for the health of our country!
Image attributions / useful links:
- Road Verge © Jeff Gogarty - geograph.org.uk/p/5793621, Wildflowers on road verge, Littlebrook, cc-by-sa/2.0
- Green Roundabout © Slaunger - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20109164
-‘green roof’ © Ryan Somma - https://www.flickr.com/photos/ideonexus/4202003130/sizes/l/in/photostream/, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17425694