Memorandum by The Countryside Agency (TCP
1. Country Parks and Historic Parks and Gardens
are important cultural and landscape features. They provide many
thousands of visitors each year with opportunities to enjoy the
countryside. They are however under funded and in some cases are
becoming run down. They are in need of fresh leadership and financial
2. This evidence sets out social and environmental
benefits provided by Historic Parks and Gardens and by Country
Parks. It recognises the continuum between parks in the town and
parks in the countryside and acknowledges the need to provide
"greenspaces" which connect town and country. We recommend
to the Sub-committee that:
(a) the Government be asked to allocate National
Lottery money for the refurbishment of Country Parks and Historic
Parks and Gardens;
(b) having people on site, as employees or
volunteers, to care for Country Parks and to provide information
to visitors is fundamental to their success;
(c) more innovative partnerships are needed,
between the public, private and voluntary sectors, for running
both Country Parks and Historic Parks and Gardens.
3. The Countryside Agency was formed on 1 April
1999 from the Countryside Commission and the national advisory
and countrywide action functions of the Rural Development Commission.
4. Part of the Countryside Agency's remit is
to improve opportunities for outdoor and informal recreation.
Specifically the Countryside Agency is required by the Countryside
Act, 1968, to keep under review all matters relating to:
the provision and improvement of
facilities for the enjoyment of the countryside;
the conservation and enhancement
of the natural beauty and amenity of the countryside; and
the need to secure public access
to the countryside for the purposes of open-air recreation.
5. Parkland provides a characteristic feature
of the English landscape. Sites are recognised for their historic,
cultural and aesthetic interest, for the role they play in providing
recreational opportunities and for nature conservation. The distinction
between Historic Parks and Gardens and Country Parks is often
blurred. Many Country Parks have been established on sites which
are also historic parkland. The main distinction is that Country
Parks are established with a countryside recreation purpose in
mind. They have been created on a wide range of different landscape
types from disused railway lines and old quarries to woodland,
meadows and historic parkland. Historic Parks and Gardens are
recognised firstly for their landscape qualities, but many also
offer informal recreational activities. Both Country Parks and
Historic Parks and Gardens can either be privately owned and managed,
run by the voluntary sector, or run by public bodies. In each
case public funding is important.
6. Country Parks have made an important contribution
to improving opportunities for enjoying the countryside and for
enhancing the environment. They have also provided a mechanism
for improving derelict landscapes and for maintaining existing
parkland. Through sensitive management many have become both cultural
and wildlife havens. There are now more than 250 Country Parks
attracting between them some 57 million visitors per year, according
to a 1994 Association of District Councils review. Well over half
of the sites receive at least 100,000 visits a year.
7. The concept of Country Parks first arose
in the White Paper "Leisure in the Countryside" in 1966.
Sections 6 and 7 of the Countryside Act 1968 allowed local authorities
to provide Country Parks in sites in the countryside for purposes
of providing or improving opportunities for the enjoyment of the
countryside by the public. The legislation required local authorities
to have regard:
(a) to the location of the area in the countryside
in relation to an urban or built up area; and
(b) to the availability and adequacy of existing
facilities for the enjoyment of the countryside by the public.
8. The Commission issued a set of criteria for
Country Parks in 1972. Parks had to be:
(a) greater than 11 hectares (25 acres):
many are much larger extending to 1,875 hectares in the Rother
Valley in South Yorkshire;
(b) readily accessible for motor vehicles
(c) provided with adequate facilities including,
parking, lavatories and a supervisory service;
(d) operated and managed by statutory or
private agencies or a combination of both.
9. The guidelines also set out the priorities
to be given to determining grant aid and the approach to promoting
10. The 1968 Act gave powers to the Countryside
Commission to provide financial assistance to local authorities
and private bodies to establish recognised Country Parks and to
provide ranger services to manage the sites. As a consequence,
many Country Parks developed high standards of visitor facilities,
including information centres, extensive footpaths, picnic areas
and refreshment facilities.
11. In the ten years following legislation,
150 parks were established. There were 220 parks by 1988 and over
250 parks today. The more popular Country Parks are intensively
used, and offer a wide range of recreation and sporting activity.
12. The main reason for encouraging the establishment
of Country Parks was the desire to ease the pressure of public
use of National Parks and other sensitive areas. There is no evidence
that this has happened; nevertheless Country Parks have provided
a useful recreation resource close to where people live. There
has been a concentration of Country Parks in the vicinity of major
13. In 1987 the Countryside Commission published
Enjoying the countrysidepriorities for action (CCP235).
The document set out the Commission's commitment to the "gateway
concept" and proposed that country park rangers should have
wider responsibility for countryside management and the rights
of way around the sites.
14. The Commission also reaffirmed its commitment
to support new Country Parks when:
(a) there was evidence of demand which could
not be managed on other open spaces in the area;
(b) access by public transport was available;
(c) the park could be used for a wide range
of countryside activities, with particular attention to the needs
of the disabled, the elderly, children and newcomers to the countryside;
(d) the park was a means to securing access
to an attractive or historic parkland and to the restoration and
maintenance of the landscape.
15. Country Parks have provided gateways from
which the public can explore wider countryside. There is a continuum
parks in towns (safe and familiar
Country Parks (on the edge of town
offering more open space, and access to wider countryside;
more remote open space in deeper
16. These different types of open space are
used interchangeably according to desire and often in relation
to increasing confidence in exploring the "great outdoors".
17. In developing the gateways concept many
Country Parks have developed links to the countryside beyond the
park, principally through the rights of way network. Rangers have
been encouraged to extend programmes of activity and information
available into the wider area. However, a report undertaken for
the Countryside Commission in 1996-97,1 revealed that
there was considerable room for improving information about access
opportunities within the countryside around the parks. The approach
is dependent on having trained staff (rangers) with time to develop
the opportunities, for example, through liaison with land owners
and by producing promotional material. An investment of time and
effort is likely to assist with making more of the rights of way
network accessible to more people.
18. The Countryside Commission publication Countryside
Recreationenjoying the living countryside (March 1999)
recognised that some Country Parks are showing their age and are
in need of attention and investment to rejuvenate them. This was
reported in the condition survey undertaken by David Haffey.1
The survey suggested that there is a significant proportion of
sites that would benefit from improved standards of maintenance.
The Commission recognised that the pressure on local authorities
had reduced the level of funding, particularly the staff needed
to manage the sites. It recommended action to the Countryside
Agency and to local authorities in order to deliver a renaissance
of Country Parks to provide people with high quality sites to
visit near to home.
19. English Heritage plays an important role
in funding and protecting Historic Parks and Gardens. However,
unlike historic buildings and ancient monuments, Historic Parks
and Gardens have tended to lose out in the competition for scarce
20. The Countryside Commission and English Heritage
worked together to secure special funds from the Government to
repair 1987 and 1990 storm damaged historic parks and gardens.
This work established a restoration philosophy for these sites
and brought to light some of the problems in managing and conserving
historic parks and gardens. In particular, a number of weaknesses
in the arrangements for identifying and recognising the importance
of sites were recognised. Lack of co-ordination between government
departments and bodies, local authorities and voluntary groups
was also seen as an obstacle to better management of the sites.
21. In 1995 English Heritage invited consultants
to look at the potential for setting up a new organisation to
provide a more co-ordinated approach to the management of historic
parks and gardens. Work is being developed in a feasibility study,
funded jointly by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Countryside Commission
and English Heritage, to explore how a Landscape Heritage Trust
might be constituted, what it would do and how it would be funded.
The consultants have produced an interim report which concludes
that the objectives for a Landscape Heritage Trust are well supported.
Options for meeting these objectives will now be considered in
a final consultants' report expected by the autumn 1999.
22. Parks provide an important element of the
fabric of the English countryside. They provide a reassuringly
safe and welcoming countryside experience for millions of visitors
each year. They provide opportunities for play, relaxation, sports,
walking and learning about the countryside and our cultural heritage.
Many Country Parks and Historic Parks are within easy reach of
where people live. The more popular parks are often intensively
used, and offer a wide range of recreation and sporting activities.
Through sensitive management many Country Parks have also become
23. A large number of Country Parks have been
in existence for at least 30 years, and some are now showing their
age. A proportion are at the start of a trend, that has led in
the case of urban parks, to a state of abandonment and neglect.
The Government has invested significantly in urban parks through
the National Lottery. Country Parks are now in need of the same
attention and investment.
24. We would like to see a renaissance of Country
Parks to provide people with high quality experiences in high
quality surroundings, on a par with the best equivalents in mainland
Europe and North America. A new breed of Country Parks should
emerge, providing for recreation, sport and health promotion.
We would like to see development plans which identify opportunities
to enhance facilities and visitor services, including new ways
of raising income through visitors, sponsorship, dual use and
other means. We would also like to see new sites to fill gaps
in provision, especially near to towns, cities and new residential
development, to provide opportunities for all to enjoy the countryside
near to where they live. Local Transport Plans should recognise
the contribution Country Parks can make to sustainable transport.
Greenways and Quiet Roads should continue to be developed to provide
better links between the green spaces in towns and those in the
25. In its first year the Countryside Agency
plans to identify best practice in attracting new sources of capital
and revenue funds for Country Parks, and to publish advice to
local authorities. We will be looking for innovative ways of developing
partnerships which offer better opportunities for the long-term
vitality of Country Parks.
 Countryside Recreation Sites: Condition
Survey, David Haffey, February 1997