Public parks in crisis warn Heritage Lottery Fund

A comprehensive report from the Heritage Lottery Fund warns of the growing threat to public parks unless new funding can be encouraged. Two decades of public and Lottery investment which has helped protect and improve the majority of UK parks but the report concludes that unless future funding is generated in new ways, parks will be at serious risk of rapid decline and could even being sold off and lost to the public forever.

Man sitting on a bench beneath a willow tree
Man In The Park
© Galina Barskaya | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Dame Jenny Abramsky, Chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund , said:  “This report makes for sobering reading.  Parks are highly valued, precious places that are vital to our physical and emotional well-being.  Following decades of decline, Lottery funding sparked a parks renaissance but that is now at risk.  We realise these are financially tough times and that is why we need  collaborative action and a fresh approach to halt this threat of decline and stop this cycle of boom and bust. Our parks are far too important not to act now.”

The report revealed our parks are under increasing pressure due to dramatic budget cuts and reduced numbers of skilled and front-line staff. A situation likely to negatively impact on park maintenance and opening hours of park facilities such as cafes and toilets.

With 34 million people believed to make regular visits to parks and green spaces, something 68% of those questioned considered  important or essential to their quality of life, urgent action is required.

HLF’s report highlights the need to develop new ways of looking after and funding parks to ensure the twenty year renaissance part funded by £700m of Lottery investment isn’t wasted. Innovative ideas are needed to help make parks financially sustainable and the Rethinking Parks programme will be encouraged to do just that.

This project intends to test new approaches to help cut costs and increase income in parks.  These approaches may include the introduction of bee farms, growing borage in wilder areas to produce starflower oil and managing woodland for wood fuel. A Volunteer in Parks programme (VIP) will be set up to encourage community involvement. 

Another idea is managing grasslands in parks as meadows. Beautiful wildflower mixes such as Meadowmat could save thousands of pounds on maintenance costs whilst helping local wildlife.  With the added benefit of  turning the park into an educational resource for the community. 

 wild flowers beside a public path

Wild flowers growing beside the path in a Cambridgeshire park

This has already been enthusiastically adopted by the Eden Project in Cornwall, where banks of low maintenance wild flowers feed colonies of honey bees. It is a solution that could work in every city and town park and be part of a fresh approach to ease the financial reliance on Lottery funding and halt the cycle of boom and bust in public green spaces.