True value of parks highlighted under lockdown
by TurfPro Editor, Laurence Gale MSC, MBPR
Laurence Gale MSC, MBPR

Last week we featured an article by Paul Rabbitts on the current state of our parks and public open spaces. The piece also promoted the launch of the new Parks Management Forum, which is aimed at raising the profile and supporting these public servants who spend their time managing these national assets.

For many years these large public parks have been facing severe cutbacks and have constantly been under the cosh in terms of public funding. However, we have seen the true value of these wonderful land assets during the current Covid-19 pandemic.


They have, without doubt, been the saviour for many who live in large towns and cities, providing a safe haven for many to get rest and respite from this ongoing pandemic.


As a member of the Midlands Parks Forum, I like many other past and present parks officers, welcome this new initiative and can see the many benefits this new national Parks Management Forum will bring.

Having spoken to many parks professionals in recent weeks, they are all looking forward to seeing the end of the current lockdown restrictions. Helping them make this transition will be the recent publication, aptly named Managing Public Parks During Covid-19

This guide is intended to help local authorities and other organisations who manage urban and country parks and the wider green space, to think through how sites can be managed as the government steadily releases the lockdown state. It has been produced collaboratively with key input from The National Lottery Heritage Fund, Local Government Association, National Trust, APSE, the Midlands Parks Forum and parks practitioners.



For me and many other past and present parks professionals, the time has come for Government to finally recognise the value of these priceless resources and find a new way of establishing and securing effective funding to maintain and manage these national assets.

In recent years I have witnessed several local authorities’ managers, trying to find ways of securing much needed funding by raising the profile of the service and more importantly getting it to be recognised as an essential service.

Some have even gone as far to say that Parks and Opens paces should come under the banner of health and social welfare services. I read with interest a recent article that supports this, entitled Give the NHS power and money to run Parks.

The piece says the NHS should be given the power and funding to maintain and even create new parks, according to a think-tank.

Parks and green spaces should be seen as a tool of healthcare in the same way as medicines and therapies, the Social Market Foundation says.
Giving the NHS a role in supporting parks and green spaces would allow doctors to make more use of “social prescribing” techniques where patients are told to take exercise and spend time outdoors to boost physical and mental health.


International evidence and NHS pilots have shown that using parks as a healthcare resource can improve outcomes for patients and significantly reduce demands on GP surgeries,” says the article.

We have known for many years that parks and open spaces have a big influence on people’s wellbeing. Given the current covid-19 crisis, this idea of sitting parks services, within the healthcare sector could be seen as a beneficial move, especially if it could be ring fenced as a statutory service.

I hope the government will after this pandemic, relook at the role of parks and open spaces, and see the value of placing them within the healthcare sector and finally give them the appropriate budgets and resources to function and be retained for future generations.

Having worked in this industry for over forty-five years and spent the best part of these years maintaining and promoting these parks, open space and sports facilities, I have a strong affinity and understanding of the role they play in our society. Can you imagine any major city or town without its defining parks, woodlands and public open spaces? Once we lose these vital assets, it would be very hard to bring them back.



We really need to see some new investment in these green lungs. They provide so much and they are important wildlife corridors. Each and every tree, road verge and grass area plays an integral part in our wellbeing and mental state.

There are nearly 313,500 miles of rural road in the UK. With verges running most of their length, it is the equivalent in area to our remaining lowland, species-rich grassland and represents a nationally significant resource of increasing importance to UK wildlife.

Establishing ecological networks to support the recovery of nature is a priority for government. When managed well, road verges, whether rural or urban and whether on major or minor roads, can sustain an astonishing amount of wildlife: more pollinators are found on well-managed verges than in the neighbouring countryside and nearly 45% of our total flora is found on verges.



I recently came across a new booklet that has been produced to help local authorities have a better understanding of the value of these road verges and how to manage them. 

On the sporting front we continue to see all the good work being done by grounds professionals to get their sporting venues up to speed to hopefully see the return of many of our major sports in the coming months.

A lot of clubs have made good use of the lockdown and gone ahead with some relevant renovation work - scarifying, topdressing and overseeding their playing surfaces. Turf professionals have been busy on social media, posting pictures and examples of their work during lockdown.



One thing that has come to the fore during this pandemic is the way we are changing how we communicate with one another. Social media and other tools have played a huge part in helping us do this, but for me the ability to hold meetings between large groups of people via Zoom and Microsoft Teams has been a game changer. Having now attending a number of these large group meetings, we are in a much better position to get things done more efficiently whilst saving time, money and resources in having to be somewhere to have a meeting.

Finally, I want to discuss again the issue of retaining and promoting jobs and careers in our diverse landscape / horticultural sports turf industry. With so many large businesses and industries taking a heavy hit on jobs, Heathrow Airport has just announced that they will be offering over 7000 members of their staff the chance for voluntary redundancy. This, with the many of the other hundreds of thousands of people being laid off, will raise the jobless figures through the roof.

However, from adversity, often comes change and I personally can see many people wanting to revalue their lives and take stock of their family values and wellbeing.

People’s mindset will have changed due to the crisis. The fast tracking pace of life has changed dramatically. Attitudes to life have definitely changed for the better, with many people wanting to take up a different lifestyle in the coming years. We as an industry should take note of this and embrace this opportunity to promote and encourage people to come and work in our diverse sector.

We have so much to offer. I am confident that people now understand the value of our public open spaces and community led sports facilities and will want to make more use of these facilities in the coming years. Hence the need for the government to invest more money in the management and maintenance of these valuable land assets.

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