Communities Week 2017: Our love for green spaces, and why we must protect them, by David Solly
As dawn breaks across England, many local parks – the natural areas closest to where we live area – can already be busy. As you emerge for the journey to work, how often do you pass a neighbour, often with a canine companion, returning from their morning walk around their local green space? In 2014/15, the Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment survey suggested that there were 887 million visits to parks in towns and cities – that’s 26% of all visits to the natural environment and the most visited type of natural area.
Just think of the benefits well managed local parks offer, from the more obvious ones as a welcoming place to relax and to exercise through to somewhere that can help absorb flood water as well as being a home for nature and an opportunity to see wildlife.
So how can we recognise those places that are considered to be well managed? One way is to look out for a green flag flying high and proud, which means the park has achieved the Green Flag Award, the national quality standard for green spaces. In 2016, green flags were awarded to 1506 places that the Award’s judges considered had met the scheme’s criteria –which, amongst other things, consider whether the space is a welcoming place and safe and secure. On 30 January 2017, a Communities and Local Government Select Committee enquiry into the future of public parks report recognised that parks face considerable challenges.
The report stated that “as shared community assets, they must serve many different purposes, and be able to respond to the different and sometimes clashing needs of local communities. They must compete with other services for investment to secure their short and long term sustainability”.
The Committee acknowledged that not all the solutions are for local authorities and policy makers to deliver alone; it recognised that meeting these challenges will require responses on many levels, and that communities have a role to play, whether through friends, volunteers, or other local groups. Many parks have friends groups, local people who help to look after their park; in some, such as Millennium Greens and Pocket Parks, it is local communities that deliver everything the space offers. Over 150 parks and greenspaces are currently registered as Assets of Community value, places that local people have identified as important to their communities. And the 241 Community Green Flag Award winning sites are all managed by local communities. Local people can – and do – make a real difference.
Getting involved and making a difference doesn’t have to mean a huge commitment– for park managers, the support of local people is invaluable whether that is by looking after its natural areas or by simply acting as their eyes and ears, letting them know what they have seen that needs fixing during their daily walk.
So next time you pass through your local park on, whether on your way to work or out for a run, or on your dog’s favourite walk, then give some thought to those who are looking after it; better still, why not give them a call and offer to lend a hand?
To find out more about getting involved in your local green space:
- Contact your local authority parks and green space team and ask them for details of local friends groups; many authorities have a central contact centre who will signpost you the right team
- Look on the internet for a friends group website on the internet
- The Love Parks website includes a find a park and friends group search tool.
By David Solly, Natural England