As a passionate ex parks manager and Green Flag judge I want to reiterate the importance of the annual Green Flag Awards and the value they bring to the table in terms of promoting the importance of green space.
I, along with several hundred other Green Flag judges, are privileged to be able to go out and assess and meet up with the hundreds of people who are dedicated to managing these wonderful assets.
A Green Flag Award is the benchmark national standard for publicly accessible parks and green spaces in the United Kingdom. The scheme was set up in 1996 to recognize and reward green spaces in England and Wales that met the laid down high standards.
In 1997, when the first Green Flags were awarded, the green space sector in the United Kingdom was in a parlous state. Decades of underfunding had left many once proud and beautiful historic city centre parks derelict, dangerous, no-go areas and many other green spaces were neglected or barely maintained.
Experts with a shared interest in promoting natural spaces from a range of backgrounds came together in response to this decline. The scheme was directed by a Steering Group made up of individuals and representatives of larger organisations, led by Mark Davis of the Pesticides Action Network UK, who worked closely with the following individuals to develop and drive the scheme forward in these early years: Nick Reeves - ILAM (The Institute of Leisure and Amenity Management) and then of CIWEM (The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management); Ken McAnespie - KMC Consultancy; George Barker - English Nature; Allan Tyler - independent consultant; and Liz Greenhalgh - independent consultant.
Their intention was to establish agreed standards of good management, to help to justify and evaluate funding, and to bring people back into the parks. And it worked. As the Standard became established, other green spaces began to apply for the Award, and now Green Flags fly over parks, cemeteries and crematoria, recreation grounds, canals, reservoirs, educational campuses, hospital grounds, housing estates, nature reserves and allotments.
There is no limit on the size of the site; they currently range from less than one hectare to thousands of hectares.
Parks and green spaces are judged in April and May each year and the winners are announced in July. Parks must apply each year to keep their Green Flag Award, and winning sites are eligible to fly a Green Flag in the park for a year.
Sites for a Green Flag Award are judged against eight key criteria:
- A welcoming place
- Healthy, safe and secure
- Clean and well maintained
- Conservation and heritage
- Community involvement
General key messages :-
- The Green Flag Awards celebrate the best green spaces in the country
- 2019 saw a record number of awards – 1,970 (compared to 1,887 in 2018)
- There has never been a more important time to visit your park to demonstrate how important they are to you and your community
- Love Parks Week is 12th – 21st July. Is Britain’s biggest celebration of valuable green spaces which aims to encourage people to visit their local parks and share their favourite moments on social media with #LoveParks
I was also privileged to attend one of the three the award ceremonies that took place in July to present the winners with their certificates where I heard Green Flag Accreditation Mangers Paul Todd give a welcoming speech and talked about the values of achieving Green Flag status
Paul Todd has worked at Keep Britain Tidy since 2009 and is responsible for the Green Flag Award, Blue Flag Award, Seaside Award and Green Key.
Paul has worked on the Green Flag Award scheme since 2003. During this period the number of sites flying the flag has increased from 182 to 1,881, with sites in nine countries outside the UK including the Netherlands, Australia and the United Arab Emirates.
Paul is also a Director of The Parks Alliance, the voice of UK Parks. He is a passionate advocate of quality places for people to live, work and relax in, wherever they live.
Paul was keen to point out several key messages :-
- Spending time in parks and green spaces is proven to improve mental wellbeing, yet new research shows we are not spending enough time in these spaces to gain the benefits
- The University of Exeter Medial School determined that people need to spend at least two hours in nature each week to promote positive mental wellbeing. Research by Keep Britain Tidy reveals that less than a third of the UK public are actually getting this recommended time
- 85% of people say that being in a green space has a positive effect on their wellbeing but only 32% are getting their ’20-a-day’
What are Green Flag Awards?
- The Green Flag Award is the international standard for parks in the UK.
- The Award recognises well managed and high quality green spaces.
- The awards are valid for one year.
There are three awards available for parks and green spaces:
- The Green Flag Award recognises well managed and high quality green spaces
- The Green Flag Community Award recognises high quality green spaces that are managed by voluntary or community groups
- The Green Heritage Site Accreditation is given in recognition of achieving the required standard in the conservation and interpretation of a site with local or national historic importance
Is it just open to parks?
No. Any freely accessible green space may apply including cemeteries, nature reserves and allotments.
Does every park that applies get an Award?
Approximately 3% of applications are unsuccessful and not everybody retains the award every year. The scheme is used across the parks sector as a quality measure and the sector understands the standards that are required to achieve it.
How much does it cost to get a Green Flag Award?
The application fees in England range from £325 to £375. This money covers the cost of administering the scheme, training and the provision of expenses for our network of 700 volunteer judges and, of course, the Green Flag itself if they win.
Is it money well spent?
It is important that we are able to measure the quality of our green spaces as we know how they can decline rapidly if they are not adequately funded. The Green Flag Award helps parks to target money where it will make the biggest difference to users in their management of the park. The local authorities that support Green Flag Award year after year recognise its value as it not only provides a standard for staff to strive to achieve but also recognition of their hard work.
Why should we spend money on parks?
There is a raft of evidence that proves the growing importance of having quality green space, particularly as the country becomes more urbanized.
- Our parks play an important role in encouraging people to take exercise and this role will only grow as the obesity level rises. People are more likely to exercise if they live near to quality green space.
- A park that is neglected is less likely to be used as people are more fearful for their safety.
- Parks also play an ever-increasing role in mitigating the effects of climate change and, particularly in urban areas, can provide a much-needed ‘green lung’ away from air pollution. A green space is, on average, 2-3 degrees cooler than its surrounding area therefore we need to increase the amount of green space in our towns and cities.
There has been a lot of talk about cuts to council services. What can people do to support their local park and ensure that standards are maintained?
There is no doubt that, if we want to keep our fantastic parks, the public are going to have to support them and work with park managers and community groups. There are already thousands of friends groups up and down the country. If your park has a friends group you could join it, if not why not consider setting one up?
Are the positive effects of green spaces on mental health proven?
Yes. Lots of medical and scientific research has been conducted that proves there are very real positive effects of spending time in nature on wellbeing. Most recently, researchers from the University of Exeter Medial School conducted a study of 20,000 people and found that spending at least two hours a week in nature is strongly linked with good health and wellbeing.
What are you doing to encourage more people to use parks and green spaces?
By encouraging more and more parks and green spaces to apply for the Green Flag Awards, we are setting a high standard that they have to attain. Our research shows that people are more likely to spend time in parks and green spaces if they have certain qualities such as being well maintained and clean and promoting personal safety and healthy activities.