Caring of the green: Ireland wakes up to the value of public parks

New scheme awards open spaces that balance sustainability with human activity

  Green Flag programme: the award scheme   rates the management of parks across six criteria including safety, cleanliness, conservation, community involvement and sustainability

Green Flag programme: the award scheme rates the management of parks across six criteria including safety, cleanliness, conservation, community involvement and sustainability

 

Do you spend time in your local park or green space? If so, you are part of a trend which is seeing public parks become the go-to spaces for recreation and relaxation. Many researchers point to the greater need for green space in our technologically driven, urban environments. But how clean, safe and sustainable are our parks? And, can they cope with this increased demand for more diverse usage?

The Green Flag programme is a recently introduced award scheme which rates the management of parks across six criteria including safety, cleanliness, conservation, community involvement and sustainability.

“I think fully accessible green space is taken for granted and undersupported, yet for more and more people living in apartments, the park is their garden,” says Robert Moss, who manages the programme at the An Taisce environmental education unit in Dublin.

Moss says the scheme aims to acknowledge the work that goes into the maintenance of parks. “Often, the parks departments are neglected within local authorities, and well-run parks aren’t celebrated in society.

“If you even think of the number of people who detour through St Stephen’s Green to give themselves a respite from the noise and distraction, you see the value of green spaces. This scheme hosts a ceremony for winners each year. It motivates staff and community groups to look after their green spaces.”

The Green Flag programme was set up in England in 1996 by the Pesticides Trust (now Pesticides Action Network), as an environmental award to draw attention to good environmental practice in park management and to promote ways of managing public spaces without the use of pesticides. Over time, parks in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland joined the programme. The scheme also operates in Australia, New Zealand, Finland, the Netherlands, Germany and the United Arab Emirates.

Pilot programme

In Ireland, a pilot Green Flag programme was run in 2015, and the 2016/2017 season is the first time that the award has been open to public parks, country parks, cemeteries and green spaces across the whole country. Parks must provide free access to the public to be eligible for the programme.

Twenty-two parks across Ireland were awarded a Green Flag in the inaugural year.

Moss points out that parks must reapply for their award each year. “It keeps them on their toes. It’s a collaborative programme and the park managers have to engage with us,” he says.

Each local authority chooses which parks it wants to enter and points are given for environmental practices such as reduced grass mowing to preserve biodiversity and the development of wetlands to alleviate flooding.

The judges of the competition are retired park staff, county council workers or volunteers in community gardens. Denis White works for Wexford County Council and volunteers as a judge for the scheme.

“We judge the parks on whether they are safe, clean and environmentally friendly. Each park has to work to get the award so if you say you’re putting in a pond, you have to do it. Or, if you say, you’re taking down a wall, you have to take it down,” he says.

Judges are allocated parks far from their local patch but White says that seeing what other public areas have achieved encourages new ideas. “We come back to the county manager and make suggestions for our local parks,” he says.

Noel McEvoy, parks superintendant with Dublin City Council is another judge in the scheme. He says the programme has come at a time when there has been a substantial increase in the number of people spending time in parks. “I think it really became evident after the financial crash when people could no longer afford to go away on sunshine holidays and drive to the countryside.”

McEvoy says that increased numbers of immigrants using Irish parks has encouraged the younger generation of Irish people to spend time in parks too. “Many foreign nationals have a better understanding of parks. They have a tradition of having picnics in the park with groups of family or friends. Now, Irish people are doing the same thing.”

Phenomenal growth

The phenomenal growth in park runs, volunteer-led weekend running routes, has also increased usage of public parks hugely. Weekend food markets have added to the allure in some areas and, indeed, many parks have re-opened tearooms or cafes to cope with increased demand.

McEvoy says that the Green Flag scheme creates a benchmark for parks on sustainability. “It’s about not damaging the environment. Parks originated in Victorian times as an escape from industrialised cities so that people could get fresh air and be close to trees,” says McEvoy. “Now, we have to balance the need for football pitches and running tracks with natural settings where biodiversity and nature thrive.”

McEvoy is also conscious that parts of Dublin’s inner city lack green space. “We want to refit green space into the inner city but it’s difficult to find space, especially with the housing crisis. But we’d like the future plans for the inner city to take into account the living environments of these people and create high-quality, usable green space like there is in Dublin suburbs like Terenure and Ranelagh.”

Robert Moss is however adamant that the programme is not a campaign to knock local authorities on their inaction on developing green spaces in specific parts of the city. That said, Moss also works with the network of community gardens across Dublin, including one on Bridgefoot Street in the Liberties, where many people have called for a public park.

“We do get enquiries about places that need parks but our role is to highlight the importance of well-run parks so that they aren’t marginalised in local authority panic budget cuts.”

In the future, Moss would like to see the scheme extended to include community gardens. But to do so, the scheme would need a commercial sponsor. “It could be an ideal opportunity for a business keen to associate health, wellbeing and the quality of life of their market audience,” says Moss.

Green Flag winners: 2016/2017 season

> Bushy Park; the Markievicz Park; Poppintree Park; St Anne’s Park; and Blessington St Park – managed by Dublin City Council.

> Cabinteely Park; and People’s Park, Dún Laoghaire – managed by Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council.

> Ardgillan Demense; Malahide Demense; Millennium Park; and St Catherine’s Park – managed by Fingal County Council.

> Pairc an Phobail, Portlaoise – managed by Laois County Council.

> The Mall Park, Longford – managed by Longford County Council.

> Blackrock Community Park – managed by Louth County Council.

> Turlough Park – managed by Mayo County Council.

> Lloyd Town Park, Tullamore – managed by Offaly County Council.

> Mullingar Town Park – managed by Westmeath County Council.

> Gorey Town Park and Showgrounds – managed by Wexford County Council.

> St Stephen’s Green; Grangegorman Military Cemetery; the National War Memorial Gardens, Islandbridge, Dublin; Derrynane Historic Park, Co Kerry – managed by the Office of Public Works.

An open day for winners and new entrants will be held on Tuesday, January 17th in the An Taisce environmental education unit, Swift Alley, Dublin 8. More details are available from Robert Moss at rmoss@eeu.antaisce.org

greenflagaward.org

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.