Research showing 25 per cent of senior parks staff in London have quit their jobs or been made redundant has triggered alarm across the sector.
London Parks & Green Spaces Forum found a quarter of posts including head of parks or parks managers had quit, retired or seen their departments merged in just 18 months. A whole layer of management had been lost, said forum director Tony Leach. Other green-space experts said the losses were likely to be replicated in other parts of the country.
Affected boroughs included Brent, Ealing, Hammersmith and Fulham, Haringey, Hillingdon, Lambeth and Waltham Forest, he said. Four others had only recently filled vacant posts including Camden, which replaced Shaun Kiddell with Jessica Gibbons (see page 5).
"Over the past 18 months, 25 per cent have either left or their jobs have been deleted," said Leach. "We are losing people with park-specific skills who are often being replaced by staff responsible for leisure or sport or those lower down the food chain with less knowledge.
"Boroughs are slipping back to old ways of working - retreating to safe areas and not sticking their heads above the parapet to talk to each other because they haven't the time or resources.
"This leads to duplication and wastage and also means they are less likely to act strategically, which is seriously bad. We've lost CABE Space while Defra and the culture department are themselves being cut back. We're exploring raising the importance of regional GreenSpace forums as a potential custodian of knowledge."
Brent lost Shaun Faulkner and the parks section merged with sport, while Ealing lost Steve Marshall and his department was merged with leisure. John Wade had left Hackney and his post was now held by an interim post-holder and Waltham Forest had lost its head of parks services and now had a director of public realm.
"Park-specific jobs have gone and posts have gone upwards to directors of leisure, sport or even waste - or they've gone downwards to people in acting-head posts. Park managers are an endangered species."
Leach said GreenSpace was working on a Heritage Lottery Fund bid to finance research on how to "harness lost skills" (see box).
Parks consultant Stewart Harding said: "Several senior parks managers have left the service through redundancy, retirement or disillusionment. These kinds of losses are widespread and the outcome will be a decline in maintenance standards."
Consultant Peter Wilkinson said the London findings were "really scary" and it was a national problem, citing big-name managers who had recently quit. These included Paul Scragg in Liverpool and Steve Smith in Oldham.
Fellow consultant Sid Sullivan said retirees could "represent a useful reservoir of skill" and GreenSpace could encourage them to donate some of their time to pro bono consultancy to help bridge skills gaps.
Green Space - Harnessing lost skills
Peter Wilkinson, chair of GreenSpace South West, is looking into how the sector can "harness lost skills" and is seeking grant funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
"We want to get a feel if there are senior managers who would want to give something back on a voluntary basis. We can have a CV database should people want to be involved in some way.
"Maybe they can advise friends groups or support wider mentoring for apprentices. We could use the web to match people with groups. This is one small part of dealing with the problem, not a solution - we don't want people drifting off."