Surveillance reveals extent of skills gap

The loss of millions of pounds and hundreds of skilled staff will have a devastating long-term effect on parks and landscapes. This, together with the merging of parks and street scene services, caused me many sleepless nights before I retired from Oldham.

My last task was to restructure and merge parks and street scene. A major concern was the potential for people with no horticultural training or background being responsible for an area including Green Flag parks. Power and a lack of knowledge combined are very dangerous. I tried to ensure that someone with a strong horticultural background had borough-wide responsibility.

A Cumbrian council recently recommended its elected members to take out shrub beds and grass over to save money. I would love to see the detailed costing. This is bunkum and smacks of someone from another planet making poor decisions. Sadly, this scorched-earth mentality is not just confined to our beautiful Lake District.

Recently in my own borough, I followed a street scene team with a wagon loaded with freshly cut Cornus alba 'Sibirica' and what looked like bits of Betula utilis. I just had to investigate. I followed the team to a nearby park where they tipped off and then headed back to the job, which was on a nearby estate.

I parked up and could see that a beautiful multi-stem birch had been given an unnecessary haircut and the cornus decked to within an inch of its life. Beneath the cornus I could see Pachysandra terminalis had been trampled to a certain death.

Unable to contain myself, I got out of my car and asked who I presumed was the team leader why he was cutting down established plants that were grown together to provide winter colour.
He said it was to make it easier to clean out the litter.

On leaving, a bed of pyracantha covering a gable end of a house caught my eye. Three days later, it had met the same fate. Skills and responsibility for those now managing our parks and green spaces need to be added to the debate before the scant resources parks have left are directed in the wrong areas.

Steve Smith is a parks consultant

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