When concrete starts to bloom: how UK cities are getting greener

Green space on our city streets makes us healthier, happier and safer. From hedgehog highways to uncut lawns, here’s how people across the UK are bringing nature into their neighbourhoods and letting it thrive.


The UK is one of the most urbanised countries in the world, with a staggering 84% of us living in towns and cities. Since the industrial revolution, our urban areas have expanded and sprawled. This process largely happened at the expense of the natural world, with a loss of green space and increase in pollution.

However, up and down the country, local communities are bucking historical trends and starting to re-green their towns and cities. People are working together and finding ingenious ways to restore the natural world in urban environments.

Urban greening does more than just change the looks of towns and cities – it transforms them into environments that actually benefit people and nature. Creating new green spaces combats air pollution, reduces flooding, provides new habitats for local wildlife, and brings communities together. It’s a crucial tool to fight against climate change and to improve standards of living in the UK.

Here are some of our favourite examples of urban greening.

Bee bus stops

Imagine if bus stops had living roofs covered with wildflowers and sedum plants – incredible right? Well some actually are!

These green-roofed bus stops are commonly called ‘Bee Bus Stops’ because their flowers attract pollinating insects whose numbers have sharply declined in recent years. Not only are these bus stops amazing sanctuaries for bees, they also absorb rain water to prevent flooding, reduce temperatures in the summer and capture pollution particles from the air.

You can find bee bus stops in cities across the UK, including Leicester, Brighton, Derby, Oxford and Hereford. If you don’t think your local area has any, why not contact your local councillor and suggest they start to roll them out?

Bus stop with a green roof and solar panels built in

Brighton’s solar-powered “bee bus stop” has a green roof for pollinators. © Clear Channel

Wildflower meadows

Wildflowers are blooming in unexpected places across the UK, as local councils mow grass less on public land. In fact, 70% of councils have deliberately reduced mowing to boost wildflowers. This has allowed dormant seeds to flower, adding a splash of colour to city parks, roadsides and verges – and crucially allows nature to flourish.

It’s not just councils who are pioneering the wildflower revolution. Guerilla gardeners are taking matters into their own hands and planting native wildflowers in unloved corners of cities like tree pits and in the middle of roundabouts. People are also transforming their once manicured lawns into wildflower habitats. In 2020, over 30% of the public decided not to mow their lawn in May as part of the nationwide campaign ‘No Mow May’.

Meadow flowers bloom defiantly with city tower blocks behind

An urban ‘meadow’ in raised flower beds on the Barbican Estate in London. © Tracy Packer / Getty Images

Community gardens

Local communities are transforming neglected patches of the city into community gardens, which they manage together to produce fresh fruit and vegetables.

There are now over 1000 community gardens across the UK and they come in all different shapes and sizes. In London, people are turning small plots on housing estates into community growing projects. In Belfast, alleyways behind houses have become communal gardens. And in Bristol, boggy scrubland has transformed into a multi-purpose community garden and nature reserve.

With food poverty on the rise and 12% of British households with no access to a private or communal garden, community gardens are vital green spaces. They provide everyone the opportunity to get into gardening, boost their wellbeing and grow their own produce. Growing more local food in harmony with nature also helps create a more sustainable food system that tackles climate change. Get involved in a community garden group near you.

Plants grown in communal gardens at the front of block of flats.

A community garden for a block of flats in central London. © Pawel Libera / Getty Images

Bee bricks and bird boxes

Bee bricks and bird boxes are two simple adaptations that give nature a home in new buildings, rather than forcing it out. Bee bricks are placed on the outside walls of buildings to provide nesting spaces for bees to lay their eggs. Bird boxes are similar in design and can come in a range of designs adapted for different species of bird.

Oxfordshire council recently built new social housing with bat and bird boxes, as well as bee bricks in outside walls. Brighton and Hove council have also recently introduced a law that requires all new buildings above 5 metres to have bird boxes and bee bricks.

If you like the sound of these nature-friendly home improvements, why not add them to your own home?

A white bird box for swifts mounted on a brick wall
A yellow bee block being used by a bee. It's full of small holes to let them nest inside.

Images: Bird box and bee block design by Green & Blue.


What if we devoted less space for cars and gave some back for people and nature? Well the parklet does exactly that.

Parklets are old parking spaces that are transformed into mini-green spaces. They come in all different shapes and sizes: some have planters, others have grass and some have potted trees. But no matter what they look like, they are spaces for the community to create together and enjoy.

In the UK, parklets originally started in the London Borough of Hackney, but have since sprung up across the country in Leeds, Birmingham and Stockport. If you fancy a parklet near you, why not contact your local councillor, suggest a location and help make it a reality?

People sit in a small space with plant boxes in the middle of a city street.

A parklet in Hammersmith in West London. © Meristem Design

Hedgehog highways

Hedgehogs have declined in the last 80 years because of dramatic habitat loss, but in recent years their numbers have stabilised in urban areas. Many conservation approaches were needed to improve their numbers, but one important solution is hedgehog highways.

Hedgehog highways are small holes in the bases of garden fences that allow hedgehogs to freely roam to find food and mates. More than 12,000 hedgehog holes were created as part of the UK’s hedgehog highway network. And slowly but surely, hedgehogs are getting more areas of uninterrupted land to forage and thrive.

After a people-powered campaign – where over 1.1 million people signed a petition calling on the government to make new build homes hedgehog friendly – the government introduced new planning laws in 2019 that require all new homes to be built with hedgehog highways. So who says petitions never work?

Tree Planting

The UK has fewer trees than almost any country in the world and around three times less woodland than the EU average. To hit our climate targets, we need roughly 1.5 billion more trees so growing them in urban areas is vitally important.

Charities like Trees For Cities are working with ambitious local authorities to plant thousands of new trees in cities each year. Cities like Cardiff, Leeds and Portsmouth have planted tens of thousands of new trees in the last year or so. These new trees will support plants and animals, clean the air and reduce temperatures in the summer, and also make their communities more beautiful places to live! What’s not to love?

A crowd of people are planting trees in a city park.

A planting day with Trees for Cities. © Luca Radek / Media Art Studio

Greening our towns and cities is crucial in the fight against climate change, but it’s also important in the struggle to make our urban areas more liveable for all. Reimagining urban life by giving space back to people and nature is good for the planet and human wellbeing. Whether we live in an urban or rural area, we all deserve access to green space and to live healthy lives, free from pollution and the effects of climate change. Urban greening helps us reach this goal and if enough people work together to transform their local community, we can make it a reality.

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