Vital for our parks and open green spaces
by TurfPro Editor, Laurence Gale MSC, MBPR
Laurence Gale MSC, MBPR

The current wet weather front is no doubt causing a few problems for many groundsmen up and down the country, especially those who are trying to complete their end of season renovations.

I have been fortunate to have completed most of my planned domestic lawn renovations in between the rain showers. I have also been busy testing out some STIHL backpack blowers, which I must say have come in rather handy during the renovation work.



With air and soil temperatures now beginning to drop into single figures, the renovation window is coming to a close. Grass growth will be slowing down as we go through the latter days of the month.

There is no doubt any further heavy rain will lead to a deluge of wet and saturated pitches along with a problem of being able to get on and carry out any essential maintenance works. Nothing worse than trying to mow saturated grass pitches and areas.


A total mess!

This was plain to see when I noticed my local council operatives attempting to cut our nearby play area, resulting in them leaving it in a total mess! Why would they try to attempt to mow this when they know full well it’s known locally as a wet site? Also during the last week most parts of the country had over a month’s worth of rain!

It beggars belief that they would even attempt to carry out this work. But alas, they did, with the below consequences:



As an ex parks manger, I would question the integrity of the staff and their decision to mow this known saturated play area in the first place. Surely, they would question the decision themselves and make the right choice?



However, it appears not. Over the last ten years I have personally seen the standards of workmanship in local authority services decline. There seems to be no pride in what they are doing. A distinct lack of presentation or care of the work they are tasked with delivering.

It is becoming a worrying trend to see the decline of horticulture standards within local authority services. The art of pruning shrubs is also now a lost skill in many authorities. While I understand the need for mechanisation, it worries me when I hear on the grapevine of a council using tractor mounted flails to prune or cut back shrub areas on housing estates.

This decline in horticulture skills has not just happened overnight, it began in the mid-1990s. In fact, it was one of the reasons why I left local authority employment. At that time, many local authorities were going through countless restructures which always impacted on staff, moral and budgets.

Parks and open space departments were beginning to be amalgamated into larger service departments, often bringing in new managers, who perhaps did not have an affinity with parks services. Budgets were reduced, along with many of the experienced staff retiring or moving to other jobs.



The combination of this and new ways of operating, I believe, have led to the demise in parks services and standards in recent years.


Hope for the sector

However, it is not all doom and gloom. There are still some bastions of excellence left operating. As a Green Flag judge I am privileged to see a lot of good work still being done. This year we have seen over 2000 Green Flags awarded in the UK alone, with a further 60 plus abroad.

And as mentioned in many recent blogs, Paul Rabbits along with a dedicated group of parks managers are trying to raise the profile and importance of parks services. Which has led to the formation of the new Parks Management Forum whose aim is to represent parks professionals and champion the work they do in maintaining these valuable areas, which during the Covid-19 pandemic have been godsend to countless people.


There are 418 principal (unitary, upper and second tier) councils in the UK – 27 county councils, 201 district councils, and 125 unitary councils. There are around 11,000 local councils in the UK, from town councils to parish councils. These councils, along with a number of trusts, charities and other organisations, manage between them 27,000 public parks across the country and employ a significant number of professionals to manage and maintain them within such service areas including streetcare, waste services, leisure services, community services, neighbourhood services and cultural services. It is now a rarity to find an authority that retains a distinct ‘parks service’. Often they are absorbed into a wider departmental structure. Yet the publics’ perception is very different, often still perceiving that ‘parks departments’ still exist.



However, over the last 20+ years, there has been a significant reduction in the number of professionals dedicated to the management of parks and green spaces. Headlines such as ‘Last of a dying breed’ and media coverage not only in the trade press but also in mainstream media (The Guardian, The Daily Mail, BBC Radio etc) has illustrated this. Like many public services, austerity has hit hard and soft services such as parks have and continue to be affected with parks and green spaces management professionals often becoming marginalised - and in many authorities, redundancies have occurred with significant posts lost.

Up to this period of austerity, a number of organisations had represented parks and green spaces professionals including:-

  • ILAM (Institute of Leisure and Amenity Management) which became ISPAL and ultimately CIMSPA, neither of the latter organisations representing parks professionals; ILAM had a dedicated parks team with officers advocating policy and recommendations for the wider management of parks.
  • The Urban Parks Forum, becoming GreenSpace which folded a number of years ago
  • CABE Space, which was a government funded quango responsible for championing urban parks and professionals, but was disbanded and became part of the Design Council, no longer representing parks professionals.


Since the disappearance of these reputable organisations, no single body represents the group of individuals who continue to manage our urban parks and green spaces and the sector has become fragmented. As part of the recent public inquiry into parks, one of the key issues raised was the lack of a professional body to represent the management professionals who look after these areas. With the end of the last period of austerity and continued importance given to public parks, it is an important period to look at representing those still managing parks and green spaces as well as those that have inherited the management of these, who receive little or no sector support. This has recently become increasingly significant during the current pandemic where parks and green spaces have had greater coverage and awareness raised of their importance.

With no single professional body representation and the gap in the sector, several other bodies do exist but have fragmented links to parks practitioners and the sector - but they have carried the flag for parks. This has meant that decision makers and policy makers have had inconsistent links to the sector that actually delivers and has done for decades. The Parks Management Forum, through an independent board of practitioners can strengthen that link, not only by strongly representing the sector, but most importantly by acting as a sound board for ideas and policy implementation as well as proposing solutions and sharing best practice that can cross fertilise the work amongst the organisation.



The Parks Management Forum will work and support all the Regional Parks Forums and organisations such as the Landscape Institute, APSE, Parks Action Group, The Parks Alliance, The Gardens Trust, The National Trust, NLHF, Chief Leisure Officers Association, Chartered Institute of Horticulture, Fields in Trust, Keep Britain Tidy, CPRE and forge stronger links with Scotland, Wales and any other national and international organisations that have in common the passion and values that underpins our work in valuing our parks and open spaces.

To help understand the value of these parks and public open spaces, there are a plethora of documents and publications to be seen here all well worth a read.

Going back to my original comment on the poor practices of mowing the grass in wet conditions, why would anybody with the right knowledge, experience and skills even attempt to mow the grass knowing full well the consequences of their actions? Was it they did not care or are they working to instructions? It would certainly be interesting to hear their side of the story.

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