What is green infrastructure?

We only have to be stuck in a traffic jam, be waiting for a delayed train or not getting a mobile phone signal to realise how vital infrastructure is to us. But all of that is part of the grey, or built, infrastructure. What is green infrastructure? And is it as significant as the grey infrastructure to us and our society?

Green Infrastructure project site at the Halfway Park by Moss Heights, Cardonald, Glasgow. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Green Infrastructure project site at the Halfway Park by Moss Heights, Cardonald, Glasgow. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Green infrastructure includes the parks, woodlands, street trees, play spaces, allotments, private gardens, playing fields, road verges, green walls and living roofs, rivers, streams, wetlands and sustainable drainage in our landscape, but also the footpaths, signs and seating that help us use, experience and enjoy our environment. We are beginning to realise that green infrastructure is more than its sum of parts. The way all of these parts work together is what makes it special.

What makes green infrastructure important?

There is increasing evidence that well designed green infrastructure in our towns and cities can be as important to us as built infrastructure, and is likely to increase in value as climate change continues.

Part of green infrastructure’s value derives from its multifunctional nature. The right type and spacing of street trees not only makes a place look good, but can also cleanse and cool the air, reduce problems caused by rain, reduce noise and promote better health and well-being. There is clear evidence that if patients can see greenspace from their hospital bed they recover faster[1].

Green space in Dundee. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Greenspace in Dundee. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Climate change is expected to cause more heavy rain. If drainage systems cannot deal with the stormwater, street flooding can be the result. It doesn’t take much standing water on a road to cause congestion. Features such as swales and rain gardens can help avoid or reduce the problem.

Green walls on buildings can be made by training plants to grow up a frame. The plants reduce heating costs in the winter by reducing the effect of strong winds, while in the summer they can help reduce air conditioning bills by reducing heat transfer into the building. Multifunction again!

The benefits of green infrastructure reach beyond what it can do for our cities’ human populations. Improving green networks allows wildlife to enter deeper into, and even across urban areas. Wildlife moving between urban habitat patches is approximately 50% greater if vegetation corridors are in place compared to patches that are not connected by corridors.

How is SNH involved in green infrastructure?

We are involved in green infrastructure planning as part of our day to day work. We provide advice to Local Authorities on their greenspace strategies, Local Development Plans and developer masterplans. We are members of, and help fund, the Central Scotland Green Network Trust, which is developing the biggest Green Infrastructure project in Europe. We now also manage a multi-million pound programme of funding for Green Infrastructure – the Green Infrastructure Fund.

Fishing beside the Forth and Clyde canal, Glasgow. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Fishing beside the Forth and Clyde canal, Glasgow. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

The Green Infrastructure Fund

The Green Infrastructure Strategic Intervention is part of the European Regional Development Fund 2014-2020 Scotland programme and aims to bring transformative change to the 15% most deprived areas of urban Scotland through funding the creation of multifunctional green infrastructure. SNH is the lead partner for the Strategic Intervention, and we are delivering it on behalf of the Scottish Government.

The rationale is to use green infrastructure to help address some of the issues faced by urban communities living in areas of multiple deprivation, and in doing so, to demonstrate how multifunctionality can provide solutions to lots of different problems at the same time. We also want to demonstrate that place-making does not have to involve a choice between people and nature.

We fund projects that have the potential to make a real impact and that deliver strongly towards our five outcomes: 

  • Nature, Biodiversity and Ecosystems  Improved green infrastructure helps strengthen our urban ecosystems and species be more resilient to climate change.
  • Improving Environmental quality, flooding and climate change  Opening up and re-naturalising our urban watercourses helps to reduce flooding and improve the quality of our urban rivers.
  • Involving communities and increasing participation  Communities that feel positive about their local greenspaces and how it benefits them want to share their experience and influence its management.
  • Increasing place attractiveness and competitiveness  Places that are more attractive to live, work and invest in are economically competitive.
  • Improving health and wellbeing  Greenspace improves health and wellbeing. Using greenspace can complement or replace other therapies.



We recognise that not all projects will be able to deliver towards all the outcomes, but we do encourage applicants to think about the multiple functions their sites can have and work out how they can deliver towards as many of the outcomes as they can. The ERDF programme also has three Horizontal themes – Environmental sustainability, Equal opportunities and Social inclusion – which cut across all the work it funds and our projects need to clearly demonstrate what steps they will be taking to address these as part of the work they do.

Phase 1 of the Green Infrastructure Strategic Intervention runs until the end of 2018. So far, we’ve committed £5.8m of funding to 5 projects in the greater Glasgow area and 2 in Aberdeen (find out more about them here). The infrastructure itself is only part of the story. As well as telling us about the physical changes they’ll be making to their sites, we ask our projects to clearly demonstrate how they will be engaging and working directly with the communities they aim to benefit, and how the people in those communities will influence and help to shape their greenspaces. All our funded projects have strong community engagement angles, not just in terms of how they’ve developed the project, but in how they will go on to deliver it and in the legacy that their projects will have. Despite the uncertainties of Brexit, we’re hoping that we will be able to run a Phase 2 and fund further capital projects.

As well as our large capital projects, we also have another challenge fund – the Green Infrastructure Community Engagement Fund – which funds smaller projects aiming to increase people’s awareness and understanding of, and involvement with, their local greenspace. We hope that these projects will empower communities to have a greater influence on the development of green infrastructure in their area. Round 2 of the Green Infrastructure Community Engagement Fund will open in early August, when we’ll also be announcing the successful projects from Round 1.Focus on Greenspaces stamp.If you want to know more about our work on green infrastructure please visit the Green Infrastructure Fund visit the Fund website (www.greeninfrastructurescotland.org.uk), or email greeninfrastructure@snh.gov.uk.


[1] Ulrich, R.S.,1984. View through a window may influence recovery from GP practice. Science 224, 420-421

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