The leaders of a groundbreaking study into the state of the UK's parks are urging parks managers to get behind a national data-gathering exercise to arm professionals with information to make the case for funding.
The study, launched by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), which has invested £580m in park restorations over the past 20 years, will draw on a range of expertise including that of leading US parks expert Peter Harnik, who will advise on best practice in data collection and analysis from the USA.
The project will combine fresh analysis of existing data from a variety of sources with fresh evidence gathered from parks professionals via a survey to be launched online in a matter of weeks.
The team has launched an immediate call for evidence and case studies highlighting challenges facing the sector.
Commenting on the study's launch, HLF head of landscape Drew Bennelick said the timing is now critical to draw attention to the impact of budget pressures on parks.
"Something has to be done. We may feel we know what is happening to parks, but parks are not being mentioned in national newspaper reports (on budget cuts).
Comparing data such as that from the Urban Parks Forum's Public Parks Assessment published in 2011 with contemporary data will allow the sector to show the impact of a decade in which local authority investment has come to a halt, said joint project leader Peter Neal.
The online questionnaire will include questions on capital and revenue budgets as well as staffing and resourcing for parks management and maintenance. It will look at the impact on the quality of parks of budget reductions as well as how strategically budgets are being made.
Highlighting the shortage of "good robust evidence" in the UK, Neal said the report will also restate and explain the multiple values of public parks in relation to current challenges.
Urging parks managers to be ready to take part in the data-gathering exercise, Neal said one of the biggest challenges facing the project will be to encourage an already under pressure sector to find the time to provide primary evidence. Another will be mapping disparate data into a national picture.
But he added: "In the USA they are able to do it and we should be encouraged that there are ways to resolve this. This will be the first step on the way to building better data nationally that is readily available for managers and politicians to use."
Parks study project
Research team: Peter Neal, Ian Baggott, Dr Edward Hobson, Peter Harnik, Ben Hurley and Ipsos MORI.
Evidence and case studies that highlight the range of challenges and opportunities that are currently facing the sector should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.