New GreenspaceNI Map to help realise the benefits of accessing the outdoors

20th June 2023

The new digital map will identify which areas of Northern Ireland have the greatest need for accessible quality greenspace. 

The first ever interactive digital map designed to be an analytical and planning tool for all publicly accessible greenspace and trails across Northern Ireland has been launched today by Outscape. Enjoying walking, picnics, getting to the shops, exercising – accessible greenspace provides spaces and routes where we can enjoy meeting individuals, families, friends, coworkers, and communities to spend time together and in nature. 

The pandemic further revealed the importance of accessing local greenspace to our health and wellbeing, and there is now greater appreciation in how it can tackle the three big crises of our time: poor health and wellbeing; cost of living; and climate change. By connecting people to and engaging people with their local greenspaces, there will be better health and wellbeing, more active travel, and our communities will be nature-rich and appealing places to live.  

Analysis of this new map shows that access to greenspace is not equal across Northern Ireland. Areas with evidently less quality accessible greenspaces are rural areas and areas of deprivation. To address this disparity, the target of ‘An annual increase in the % of households within 400m of quality accessible greenspace of at least 2 hectares’ is proposed within the Environment Strategy and is already reported within the Northern Ireland Environmental Statistics Report.  GreenspaceNI currently shows that 49.7 per cent of households meet this target.  

Across Northern Ireland there are 98,853 hectares of greenspace (over 2 hectares) and 2,926 miles of trails – this equates to 500m2 of greenspace and only 2.41m of trail per person!  

The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) and the Department for Infrastructure (DfI), on behalf of the cross-departmental Strategic Outdoor Recreation Group (SORG) provided grant aid investment to Outscape to create this new map. The GreenspaceNI Map will enable public bodies, community groups and landowners, to identify the priorities and create a vision for the future to level up access to quality greenspace. It provides insights as to where accessible greenspace is needed most and the best routes to connect people to their local greenspace, with an overarching ambition for everyone to have accessible quality greenspace within their community. 

Mark Hammond, Director of Natural Environment Division from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, and Chair of the cross government Strategic Outdoor Recreation Group said: 

“Connecting people, nature and places through increasing and improving greenspace and trails will not only create more sustainable, attractive and active places to live and work but will help to tackle climate change and biodiversity decline as more people connect with and care for our biodiversity and landscapes. 

The GreenspaceNI map is the ideal tool to inform the development of local plans, policies, and strategies relevant to place shaping and to identify Community Path Networks and Nature Recovery Networks.  NIEA is committed to increasing access to greenspace in partnership with others to shape a future where access to local quality greenspace is available to everyone to improve the quality of all our lives. 

Outscape worked closely with over 20 organisations to capture all the publicly accessible greenspace and trails. Representatives from key government departments and agencies, Councils, and universities contributed datasets and feedback during the development stages and tested the map with various use cases ahead of the launch.  

Eileen Cowan from the Active Travel Team of the Department for Infrastructure said: 

“We are delighted to see the launch of the GreenspaceNI Map and were very happy to provide joint funding alongside DAERA to enable its development. There are lots of exciting infrastructure use cases such as greenspace infrastructure planning, local and urban planning, and designing environments that enable more walking, cycling, and wheeling. We are particularly interested in how we can connect people via active travel and sustainable transport modes to our wonderful greenspaces – this will be great for people, place and planet!     

The sell-out launch event attracted people from a wide range of organisations, including all Councils, key government departments and agencies, environmental charities, and universities all seeking a first-hand look at GreenspaceNI. A panel discussion with experts explored how various sectors plan to use the map to inform their work going forward. This included greenspace and community trail planning, urban design, active environment creation, sustainable travel planning, habitat conservation, and supporting research insights and funding applications.   

After the event, Communication and Training Specialist Elizabeth Annett said on behalf of the project team in Outscape:  

“To showcase the map, share insights that we now have for the first time, and illustrate some scenarios was a wonderful culmination after lots of hard work from many organisations to make this important digital map possible. Outscape looks forward to supporting public bodies, community groups, and landowners to use it to positively shape the future of our invaluable greenspaces and trails.  

It’s a real game changer for identifying priorities for greenspace going forward!    

To explore the various ways to engage with the GreenspaceNI map visit: https://www.out-scape.com/news/greenspaceni-map/   

This includes: 

  • Spatial NI – aimed at organisations with geographical information software and expertise. 
  • Greenspace NI Map Viewer – aimed at community groups to undertake a range of simple map viewing and analytical functions. 
  • Greenspace NI Dashboard – conveys GreenspaceNI map information by presenting location-based analytics using intuitive and interactive data visualisations – great for discovering interesting statistics.  
  • Storymap – shares topline key insights from GreenspaceNI map for Northern Ireland.