Oversubscribed grant programmes mean parks that do not act now could be even harder hit by the economic downturn.
While deadlines on some grant programmes — including Natural England-run Access to Nature — have now been brought forward, others are so heavily oversubscribed that competition is increasingly fierce.
Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) head of landscape and natural heritage Drew Bennellick — who leads the Parks for People scheme — told HW there had been huge demand.
"As usual, we have more applications than money," he said.
The Big Lottery Fund's (BIG's) exit from the programme means a fall in cash available from around £50m a year to £20m, but Bennellick added that this figure will continue until at least 2013.
London Parks & Green Spaces Forum (LPGSF) director Tony Leach explained the major problem would be competition. "Competition is going to be greater and there is less money around to go for."
Indeed, the LPGSF is itself under threat, following the withdrawal of cash from one charitable funder.
The BIG-funded Access to Nature grant programme opened to applications in April 2008 but is now scheduled to close its Stage 1 applications by 1 February 2010.
In addition, the £50m BIG-funded Local Food scheme is being suspended this month.
Meanwhile, experts are urging park managers to use statistics to persuade politicians of the intense need for green spaces and help to minimise cuts.
Co-author Ken Worpole of 1995 report Park Life: Urban Parks and Social Renewal campaigned against green-space budget cuts during the recession of the 1990s. But he warned that unless park managers use figures to show the value of their spaces, they were likely to face swingeing cuts. "The strongest criticism I can make of local authorities is that they simply don't know how many people use their parks, but it is very easy to count people and it's a permanent hearts-and-minds battle to keep politicians on side," he said.
Bennellick agreed: "Unless people can demonstrate how a park performs it is very difficult to argue for that continued investment." He added the HLF can fund surveys, using a tool such as GreenSTAT.
A more strategic use of volunteers and friends groups could also help ease the impact of cuts, argued Leach. "Friends groups can access funding the local authority can't, yet some boroughs haven't yet woken up to the fact that they need friends groups," he explained. "Parks could also potentially save money by using volunteers."
The LPGSF is now working with Natural England on a report mapping park volunteers and opportunities in the capital. A conference is planned for October, to discuss a strategic approach to parks and green spaces.
"We will probably end up being a match-making service," said Leach. "I don't see it as a panacea or substitute for regular maintenance by professionals but it could be used for things parks can't afford to do."
Subscribe to Horticulture Week for more news, more in-depth features and more technical and market info.