Spotlight on Research: Mapping the hidden values of Bicester's green spaces

Mapping the hidden values of Bicester's green spaces

ECI ecosystem researchers have compiled a toolkit to help Bicester's urban planners map 'green infrastructure' and deliver their vision of a garden town and healthy new town.

"Green Infrastructure provides a whole host of valuable ecosystem services," ECI ecosystems researcher Alison Smith explains. "What’s more, these 'services' have a financial benefit to the local area, as well as cultural and health benefits."

The benefits are broad and varied, from cleaning the air, reducing flooding, regulating the local climate and supporting pollination; to improving people’s health by providing green space for exercise. There is also strong evidence that people value their local green spaces because they make a place more beautiful and distinctive, and provide habitat for wildlife.

Once green space is gone the species it supports and the services they provide are – more often than not – gone forever, Alison reminds us. Because of the irrevocable nature of local planning decisions, she says, it is crucial that local authorities – usually pressed for time, money and resources – have access to the best possible tools and knowledge to support their town planning.

This is why a small team of ECI ecosystems researchers, led by Dr Pam Berry, headed to Bicester to create an easy-to-use toolkit for assessing and valuing green infrastructure within the urban environment. The town is set to almost double in size in the next 15 years, with 10,000 new homes in the pipeline. This brings both opportunities and threats for local green spaces.

Working with the district, town and county councils, as well as local wildlife groups and the Environment Agency, the ECI team identified the most important 'ecosystem services' to measure around Bicester. Recreation, water quality regulation, flood protection, urban food production, wildlife habitat, sense of place and aesthetic value came in as top priorities, with air quality, local climate regulation, water supply and pollination also noted as being important factors in defining the value of Bicester’s green spaces.

Using these categories for evaluation, the team 'scored' the land around Bicester – its playgrounds, meadows, woodlands, hedgerows, wastelands and waterways – for its environmental, health and cultural value.

"Land-use scoring tools, like the ones we have used in Bicester, provide a quick first-cut approach for mapping and assessing green infrastructure and ecosystem services," Alison explains. "Though not rigorous, it provides local authorities with enough information to start to identify the areas that should be protected and the opportunities for improvements."

Other approaches have also been tested, including working with the public to map the value of their green spaces. Apart from revealing a wide range of cultural benefits, including connection to nature, social cohesion and a 'sense of place', the councils were surprised to find that local people can be just as passionate about the value of street trees and small patches of green space outside their homes as they are about the larger parks in the town.

The toolkit, which brings together a range of existing tools into a simple framework, has already generated a lot of interest from users beyond Bicester.


"With these tools, we hope that planners will better be able to 'test' whether developers’ green infrastructure plans will best serve the needs of local people and protect biodiversity."

Alison Smith, Senior Research Associate
Environmental Change Institute (ECI), University of Oxford.


Tools for Planning and Evaluating Urban Green Infrastructure: Bicester and Beyond was led by Dr Pam Berry and Alison Smith, and funded by NERC as a Green Infrastructure Innovation Project; 2016-2018.



  • NERC


  • Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford
  • Forest Research (BEETLE and iTree-Eco tools)
  • Cherwell District Council
  • Bioregional Development Group
  • Bicester Town Council
  • Oxfordshire County Council
  • Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership
  • A2Dominion Housing Group Ltd
  • Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust (BBOWT)
  • Wild Oxfordshire
  • Environment Agency
  • South Downs National Park Authority
  • The Mersey Forest
  • Green Infrastructure Partnership, Town & Country Planning Association (TCPA)
  • Ecosystems Knowledge Network

Selected Outputs