Paul Rabbitts    

Author, Parks Historian & Speaker


Representing Parks Professionals ... representing the profession

Posted on 26 April, 2019 at 11:20

Purpose of paper

The purpose of this paper is to outline the current situation with regards to the lack of professional representation of parks managers and to detail a way forward by developing closer links with the Landscape Institute and an opportunity for parks professionals to have an established organisation to represent them.


There are 418 principal (unitary, upper and second tier) councils in the UK – 27county councils, 201 district councils, and 125 unitary councils. There are around 11,000 local councils in the UK, from town councils to parish councils. These councils manage between them 27,000 public parks across the country and employ a significant number of professionals to manage and maintain them within such service areas including streetcare, waste services, leisure services, community services, neighbourhood services and cultural services. It is now a rarity to find an authority that retains its distinct ‘parks service’ often absorbed into a wider departmental structure, yet the public perception is very different, and still perceive that ‘parks departments’ still exist. However, over the last 20+ years, there has been a significant reduction in the number of professionals dedicated to the management of parks and open spaces with headlines such as ‘last of a dying breed’ and media coverage not only in the trade press but also in mainstream media (The Guardian and the Daily Mail, BBC Radio). Like many public services, austerity has hit hard and soft services such as parks have and continue to be hit hard with park management professionals often becoming marginalized and in many authorities, redundancies have occurred with significant posts lost.

During this period, a number of organisations have represented parks professionals including:-

• ILAM (Institute of Leisure and Amenity Management) which became ISPAL and ultimately CIMSPA, neither of the latter organisations representing parks professionals;

• The Urban Parks Forum, becoming GreenSpace which folded a number of years ago;

• CABE Space, which was a government funded Quango responsible for championing urban parks and professionals, but was disbanded and became part of the Design Council, no longer representing parks professionals.

Since the disappearance of these reputable organisations, no single body represents the body of individuals who continue to manage our urban parks. As part of the recent public inquiry into public parks (before the government became all absorbed with Brexit), one of the key issues raised was the lack of a professional body to represent parks management professionals. To this day, there has been little progress despite the continued need and representation from the industry.

The Current Position

With no professional body representation, a number of other bodies exist that have indirect links and to a degree have ‘carried the flag’ for parks. These are as follows:

The Landscape Institute (LI): represents the interests of landscape architects, landscape managers and landscape scientists, a chartered institute with entry by examination. A number of landscape architects have entered the world of parks management (including myself) and left the LI. The LI is keen to expand its portfolio of professional representation and there is now a ‘parks chapter’ representing parks professionals within the Irish Landscape Institute.

The Association of Public Service Excellence (APSE): representing the public sector generally and covers all areas within, from waste, streets, leisure, culture, parks etc. APSE is currently the only organization that currently is responsible for local, regional and national networking with seminars and conferences covering parks. They are also exceptional at collecting data with regards to trends. APSE is also a commercial organisation.

Parks Action Group (PAG): a small group representing parks interests working with national government – membership of this group covers key stakeholders such as Green Flag, Groundwork, HLF, National Trust, and others.

Green Flag: managed by Keep Britain Tidy Group and with dedicated officers, the only significant organization that network nationally (and now internationally) with local authorities and parks professionals. There are over 1,800 Green Flag Parks and despite current downward trends, the numbers of GF parks are increasing. However, a number of key local authorities have significantly reduced their number of applications and in a number of instances, ceased altogether. Why is this?

Parks Alliance: a small organisation who lobby government and promote the importance of parks nationwide, made up of individuals who are passionate and advocate the importance of parks, particularly via social media. 

Regional Parks Forums: Across the country, there are a small number of green space or parks forums, and include ParksHerts, the West Midlands Parks Forum, Birmingham Open Spaces Society, Bristol Parks Forum, and the London Parks and Open Spaces Forum. Each of these represent regional interests and are made up of local authority officers and arrange local workshops, networking events, sharing of information and are provide local support networks.

GreenSpace Scotland: As Scotland’s parks and greenspace charity, they have been influential in shaping a supportive policy context for greenspace and promoting good practice on greenspace delivery in Scotland. Now a social enterprise, they are an exemplar organization in promoting the benefits of green space, developing policy and supporting the sector.

The Gardens Trust: The Gardens Trust is the only UK national charity dedicated to protecting and conserving our heritage of designed landscapes. They campaign on their behalf, undertake research and conservation work, and encourage public appreciation and involvement. Through the national network of County and Country Garden Trusts, they have access to people and local expertise throughout the country. The Gardens Trust is also a membership organization which relies on members and donors to support their work. Increasingly, they are becoming more involved in parks issues where there are specific interests related to landscape design and heritage.

The National Trust: The NT has taken up the challenge of wider issues around the management of urban green spaces and is working with the NLHF on the parks accelerator programme and assisting a number of local authorities based on the NT model in looking at better ways of managing parks eg Newcastle, Cambridge, Birmingham and London. This is an interesting development especially as they have secured funding to assist with this programme.

The National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF): The only organisation that has funded and has basically been the savior of many of our public parks and has funded a number of parks management posts. As of 2018, they no longer have a dedicated parks fund but will continue to fund park. The Issues

Since the demise of ILAM, GreenSpace and CABE Space, it is clear that no singular organisation represents the parks sector and management functions within. What groups that exist are either entirely regionally focused, supported by volunteers, or have a partial interest in urban parks. Whilst this may be perceived as a strength, it results in a disjointed approach to the representation of the parks sector with the question remaining, who truly represents the interests of the parks sector. The strength of a singular organisation representing the sector is now deemed essential. The creation of a new chapter within an existing and established organisation would benefit parks professionals in the following way:-

• Sector representation – a seat at the table with a single voice; • Developing and enhancing opportunities for succession planning within the sector – developing the park managers of tomorrow;

• Skills, Learning & Development opportunities – so sadly lacking;

• Sharing and networking forum nationally;

• Collective of expertise – the level of expertise in this sector is immense – creating the 21st century park manager;

• Create and strengthen links with wider sector and beyond.

So why the Landscape Institute? The Landscape Institute has responded and appears to have recognised the value that parks management professionals can bring and the relationship that there is between the wider ethos of the LI, the enhancement of the Landscape Management sector within the LI as well as the wider landscape sector. The LI has established a Landscape Management Forum with its aim to extend its representation of Landscape Managers, currently with very few members in the LI. The LI also has national and international recognition, and works across the wider sector with links to organisations such as Historic England, Natural England, Environment Agency, the National Trust, AONB’s, Groundwork, BALI and a number of government agencies. The longer-term future of the Landscape Institute would also be strengthened by the introduction of a wider membership portfolio.

A way forward – a proposal

If the LI are serious about representing parks professionals, a number of issues need to be considered:-

• What are the lessons learnt from previous parks ‘bodies’ such as ILAM, GreenSpace and CABE Space that have failed? These previous organisations were respected within the sector and successful and are sorely missed. However, financial issues, discontinued support from government were all part of the reasons they folded.

• What examples are there of best practice? West Midlands Parks Forum and GreenSpace Scotland are good examples. The Irish Landscape Institute have established a ‘Parks Chapter’ and is well considered.

• What is the scope of representation? Urban Parks? Country Parks? Local government representatives? The current LI LMF includes representatives of National Parks and AONB groups. These are very different from urban parks issues and management functions. The model established by the Irish LI with a parks chapter needs to be explored further. Whilst Landscape Managers from Protected Landscapes (AONBs, National Parks, Natural England etc) all have a part to play, the issues affecting urban parks managers are very different to those of Protected Landscapes.

• Level of membership and entry levels – very different from the current P2C route. How do we define this? Years of experience? Level of responsibility? Are there different levels of membership? This is an issue and a competency framework needs to be established and entry criteria firmly created. Much of the competency framework for parks management is based on experience or degree level qualifications in Environmental sciences such as Ecology, amenity horticulture, geography, and in some cases landscape architecture. The entry level is very wide.

• What can the LI offer? What’s the carrot?? There will be a membership subscription which is currently high for a CMLI or Associate level and has seen a number of existing ‘landscape architect’ qualified park managers leave the LI. There needs to be a clear offer – a separate chapter representing park managers, a distinct journal? Newsletter? Website dedicated to parks? Offers of training and development? Progression? Seminars and conference opportunities?

• A clear voice representing parks – the LI team are very landscape focused but who within is the parks champion? A parks chapter based on the Irish model? • Who should be involved in taking this forward? Organisations and individuals?

• Timeline is crucial. The industry is struggling and this needs a dedicated resource to deliver this – staffing and funding. Can the LI afford or is there an opportunity for external funding? HLF? MHCLG? My view is we need to establish an external working group that will report to the LI and develop a firm proposal to take this forward. A precedent already exists where the Irish Landscape Institute have established a ‘parks chapter’. It would be prudent to involve them and look at lessons learnt and how successful this has been. See link below.


A considerable opportunity exists for the representation of parks management professionals that would be mutually beneficial to both the parks sector as well as the Landscape Institute. There are clear relationship benefits to both sectors and excellent examples to be learnt from elsewhere. The recommendation is to establish a dedicated working group of leading parks professionals with wider input from other key individuals from the wider parks sector. This group will report to the LI with firm detailed proposals based on the example of the Irish Landscape Institute.

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1 Comment

Reply Mike Bent
12:09 on 1 May, 2019 
Count me in Paul