National treasures

“We were set up to identify the most important monuments of our nation’s civilisation in order that they be protected for the future.’. All in all there are about half a million of these assets – buildings, monuments, parks and gardens" says Simon Thurley Chief Executive English Heritage

There are 1595 designed landscapes on the current English Heritage Register of Historic Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest. These registered landscapes include private gardens, public parks and other green space, country estates and cemeteries. They are valued for their beauty, diversity and historical importance.

The special genius of parks and gardens is the synergy that they allow between nature, design and horticulture – one that involves a combination of trees, plants and wildlife, views and vistas, drama and setting. Many of these features could be vulnerable in a changing climate. English Heritage has already embarked on joint projects with the horticultural sector to develop a better understanding of the likely impacts and the implications for conserving these special places for future generations.

The organisation will place each asset into one of the following categorys

Low Risk
This category includes sites that are in good condition. They have often been repaired and have the advantage of a conservation management plan (or equivalent), and in some cases the additional protection of conservation area status.

Medium Risk
This group comprises landscapes where neglect is the key issue but also includes sites where the presence of planning applications indicates potential development pressures. The group includes many of the cemeteries that have recently been registered, together with sites that have not attracted conservation management-plan funding.

High Risk
Typically these sites are adversely affected by development and neglect. They have frequently been altered by development or are faced with major change. They are generally not protected by conservation management plans or conservation area status. The original function of these landscapes has often changed; divided ownership may also have resulted in the loss of the cohesive character of the place
Of the 1595 registered sites in England, 60% have been the subject of planning applications in the last five years. Of these, 35% threaten a major change to the site. Some of these developments will result in the historic designed landscapes being irreversibly changed

Types of sites at risk due to neglect:

The 18th and early 19th century practice of designing parks in the style of paintings is not widely understood, which makes this important class of landscape particularly vulnerable. These landscapes could too easily be lost to the pressures of development and neglect.

Arts and craft
The private gardens of late 19th and early 20th century houses are vulnerable to neglect and change because they are often on a smaller scale than their predecessors. Their complex planting and detailed hard landscaping can also make them difficult to adapt to modern uses.

Local Authority owned landscapes
As a result of Heritage Lottery Fund investment most of the public parks that were at high risk a decade ago are now safe. Those remaining at risk tend to be those belonging to country house estates now landlocked in urban areas and reused as museums or galleries. In contrast, a significant number of country parks, especially those serving major conurbations, appear to be vulnerable, both from the splitting-up of the original designed landscape and tendency of country park management to focus on nature conservation and recreation rather than the mutually agreeable care of the historic designed landscape. Cemeteries also feature on our initial analysis of sites at risk. Most of these historic designs appear to be vulnerable to neglect but there are some that are also affected by development. English Heritage, in partnership with Natural England, issued guidance on the conservation of cemeteries in 2007.

Education establishments

A significant number of registered parks and gardens belong to schools, colleges and training centres. Although these organisations have played an important part in securing the survival of their historic designed landscapes, current economic pressures can make them reluctant to invest in conservation of their historic landscapes.
“To save them for the future it’s logical that we have first to know if they are safe or endangered. This is more than just a gathering of statistics in order to develop targets: it’s at the practical core of what we do. Unless we identify and monitor what’s at risk we won’t be able to plan and prioritise effectively. We have to use this mass of knowledge to target our resources and our research. Problems have to be pinpointed for solutions to be formulated “ says Simon.
“Change is not necessarily bad; it can indeed be beneficial to the conservation of the historic park and garden. New visitor facilities such as car parks, shops and cafés all require planning consent and the registered status of the site is a material consideration in the appraisal of these applications. The challenge is to plan new facilities in ways that complement their historic setting and do not detract or disrupt the original design. Historic parks and gardens were designed to be enjoyed and there are many good examples of carefully considered visitor management that are opening them up to larger audiences than ever before.”

The proportion of registered historic parks and gardens at risk is broadly similar throughout England. . However, the actual number of sites at risk is greatest in the South where more than 40 per cent of the countries registered parks and gardens are located.

There’s a great deal of work to be done – and its ongoing.

We are going through difficult financial times and some may question the allocation of resource when there are so many other areas looking for more funding.

Simon ‘s response is logical and convincing. “ Solutions must be found for the sake of those who will come after us. But there are also very strong financial reasons for looking after the nations parks and gardens. We are also protecting a massive tourist industry. People don’t visit England to sit on a beach and eat hamburgers- they come to see history in a green and pleasant land.”

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