New report reveals scale of London’s garden loss

Wednesday 8th June 2011

Adam Cormack

A pioneering study, London: Garden City?, is launched today revealing that London’s gardens - which make up nearly a quarter of Greater London - are changing from green to grey.

Garden greenspace in the capital’s gardens has been lost at a rate of two and a half Hyde Parks per year driven by recent trends in garden design. While hard surfacing – including decking and paving – increased by over 25 per cent in the 100 month study period.

The report highlights that the impacts of garden design and management on the environmental role of gardens is an issue that needs to be addressed. Londoners who are not garden-minded may be turning to hard surfacing for practicality, unaware of low maintenance planting alternatives and their many added benefits. While trend setting garden designs often focus on the architecture of a garden, the function and environmental benefits of vegetation and soils can be ignored. But the positive message is people have the power to influence London’s environment by changing their gardening behaviour.

London’s gardens cover a vast area. But the speed and scale of their loss is alarming

The report also considered the effect of housing development on garden land. It shows that on average, 500 gardens or parts of gardens were lost to development per annum in London. This equated to about 6 hectares of vegetated garden land lost to development during each of the years studied – a negligible amount from a city-wide perspective. But, at a local level, each development accounted for an average loss of 200m2 of vegetated land, which could have local impacts in terms of wildlife resources, flood drainage and climate change adaptation. The Mayor has proposed to strengthen the capital's spatial development plan, the London Plan, to make it harder for developers to encroach on gardens.

The research used aerial photographs and was conducted in partnership by London Wildlife Trust, Greenspace Information for Greater London (GiGL) and the Greater London Authority.

‘As established by this report, London’s gardens cover a vast area. But the speed and scale of their loss is alarming,’ says Mathew Frith, Deputy Chief Executive of London Wildlife Trust. ‘Collectively these losses detrimentally affect London’s wildlife and impact on our ability to cope with climate change. It’s never been more important that Londoners understand the value of our capital’s gardens. A well managed network of the city’s 3.8 million gardens support essential wildlife habitat and offer important environmental benefits in response to climate change including sustainable urban drainage,’ adds Mathew.

‘This is the first research of its kind for London,’ says the report’s author Chloë Smith. ‘The study not only details the amounts of each kind of ground cover in the capital’s gardens – never previously documented - but also the gains and losses within a decade. This is important to test well-known anecdotal evidence and other localised research.

‘We can empirically demonstrate the importance of London’s gardens,' adds Chloë. ‘Our research emphasises that gardens are a major and valuable part of London’s greenspace. In particular, we document the area of London’s gardens that is primarily vegetation – 57% of the 37,900 ha of garden (22,000ha) is estimated to be vegetated, that’s 14% of London’

‘In 2008 GiGL recognised that there was a gap in our partnership’s knowledge and undertook initial data analysis to establish conclusively how much of each borough was garden land. This work led to the realisation that it would be possible to use aerial photographs to analyse the composition of the gardens. GiGL are delighted that this project has improved the knowledge base that underpins conservation decisions in the capital.’ Matt Davies, GiGL Data Manager.

For free advice on wildlife and climate friendly gardening please visit London Wildlife Trust’s gardening website

To download a summary of the report visit

Headline Facts and Figures

• Greater London has a large area of garden land: 37,900 ha, or 24% of the capital is private garden land. This land includes some 3.8 million individual garden plots.

• London’s gardens are becoming less green: 57% (22,000 ha) of London’s garden land is vegetated (measured in 2006-08). But this area has fallen from 25,000 ha in 1998-99. That’s a 12% drop of some 3,000 ha, lost at a rate of 2.5 Hyde Parks per year.

• Garden maintenance trends have London-wide impacts: Hard surfacing in London’s gardens increased from 9,900 ha in 1998-99 to 13,000 ha in 2006-08, a 26% increase of some 2,600 ha. Garden buildings (sheds, glass houses etc.) increased in cover by 55% or 1,000 ha, and mainly in back gardens.


Story by London Wildlife Trust