Horticulture Week Custodian Award - Best Urban Park Initiative

Winner - Rethinking Burnley's Parks, Burnley Borough Council

Burnley Borough Council has been rethinking how it maintains heritage parks to protect them from the impact of funding cuts and to create a practical model that other parks can adopt.

Consultation through the local authority's citizens' panel found contact with nature and opportunities to see wildlife are what the public most appreciate about parks. Burnley realised that a more ecological approach to green-space management, including in its heritage parks, would offer opportunities to save money and increase biodiversity while creating more interesting parks and engaging the community.

The council manages some 550ha of green space serving a population of 87,000 in one of the UK's most deprived districts facing some of the deepest cuts. With support from Nesta's Rethinking Parks programme, the project demonstrates that money can be saved by adopting ecological and permaculture techniques while maintaining high horticultural standards and an 85 per cent public satisfaction rate. Biodiversity has increased, parks are more interesting and attractive, and local people are engaged through a Volunteer in Parks programme.

Working closely with Offshoots Permaculture Project, park friends groups and staff, Burnley developed a programme to recruit, train and manage volunteers. Over 12 months, 85 people put in more than 2,800 hours of time worth £43,000.

The council also extended meadow management regimes to Green Flag parks. Habitat plans were prepared and baseline surveys undertaken before changing regimes in up to a third of each park. An Amazone Profi-hopper improved the appearance of formal lawns while also allowing meadows to be cut and hay removed in June/September. A oneto five-star rating now measures meadow biodiversity and the programme is on target to save £58,000-plus. The world's first urban bee cages were also introduced.

Annual bedding schemes were replaced with perennial planting, extending flowering seasons, reducing labour and increasing biodiversity while saving around £28,000 per year. Areas of park woodland were thinned to produce fuel and woodchip for playgrounds, earning £15,000 per year from Renewable Heat Incentive payments and savings in woodchip. Nesta identified the project as one of its most successful initiatives.

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