Tag Archive: open space

A Learning Through Landscapes film in which Sir David Attenborough explains how schools in England are facing tough decisions to accommodate a sharp rise in pupils. He strongly believes that making the choice to sacrifice their outdoor spaces will not only have a catastrophic effect on children’s connection with nature but also their learning, behaviour, health and well-being too.

More information: Learning Through Landscapes

Old School Gardener


Day Four involved a figure of eight walk with a starting pont at the cross over of the 8. This was still a relatively short walk and would enable us to visit four tors; Leather Tor, Sharpitor, Leeden Tor and Ingra Tor. Our start point was a car park between Yelverton and Princetown, so once more we returned to southern Dartmoor.




We were again blessed with bright sunshine. From our start it was a bit of a puff walk up the northern slope of Sharpitor, a tor with lots of broken boulders and some interesting features.

Leather Tor

Leather Tor

From here it was a short walk across to the more impressive ‘peak’ of Leather Tor, which looked rather more like a mountain climb than was eventually required, but it was nonetheless great to clamber over rocks and stretch the tendons! After a short walk back to the car around the edge of Peek Hill, we paused for refreshments. Off again, this time we headed to the north and Leeden Tor, though our reliance on map reading and not the bearings we had planned proved to take us off the most direct route.

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Having rechecked our bearings and double checked our map we set off for Ingra Tor, a very interesting, longish rock formation with some interesting shapes and wonderful views to the southern moor and small farms. I think this was one of my favourite tors and I took a souvenir piece of granite from it for a paperweight.

Ingra Tor - one of my favourites

Ingra Tor – one of my favourites

Four more tors completed, taking our tally to 13 for the four days. The weather was holding and it looked like we would easily exceed our challenge of climbing 10. Day five brought some interesting new angles on the tors, including one that no longer exists!

Old School Gardener

WP_20140903_018This was the big one. Day three of our Tor Challenge was billed as an all dayer, packed lunch required. Travelling to the northern edge of Dartmoor at Meldon, near Okehampton, we headed for the reservoir, a beautiful site in itself and the starting point for our day’s walk.


It was a long trudge around Longstone Hill and then across valleys and into the (today quiet) firing range, towards Black Down. From  here we followed increasingly rugged and harder-to- see paths to the foot of West Mill Tor. A short, steep ascent was rewarded with a tremendous view on another beautifully sunny day. From  here we could see our ultimate objectives- High Willhays (the highest  point in Devon and southern England) and Yes Tor, slightly lower. It was also from here that we made our first spotting of…….a nude walker! At least that’s what it looked like as a well-tanned male torso was seen stepping out boldly towards the slopes of Yes Tor. Having got over the ‘shock’ of this sight we made our way down to a wide, well trodden path that would take us up to the ridge between the two tors we were left with.

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This was steady walking, remembering to pick up a stone or two en route to add to the cairn atop High Willhays. It was here that we saw our nude friend once more, striding out but also rather aimlessly- was he looking for someone to show off to? (we didn’t get close enough to see if he had reason to show off…). Or was he following us? He seemed to be close to our route across to Yes Tor and even waved at me and said ‘Hi’ just after I snapped a picture to prove our point….

Back to Nature- 1

Back to Nature- 1

Back to Nature- 2....

Back to Nature- 2….

After a packed lunch atop Yes Tor, admiring the distant views and chatting to fellow walkers, we saw some low clouds forming to the south and so decided to pick our way back to Black Down the quick route down the slopes, but also a rather wetter one through boggy ground. So, that’s nine Tors done, how many more could we add?

Would Day Four live up to this latest experience?

Old School Gardener

green flag stratfordI’m one of 700 volunteer judges for the ‘Green Flag’ Award scheme in the U.K. This involves inspecting parks and open spaces, meeting staff and volunteers and looking at Management Plans and other documents, with the aim of assessing each space against eight strict criteria, including horticultural standards, cleanliness, sustainability and community involvement.

The winners for this year have recently been announced and more parks and green spaces than ever will be flying the Green Flag Award in 2014/15. In total, 1482 parks, cemeteries, universities, shopping centres and community gardens have met the high standard needed to receive the Award.

Among this year’s recipients of the Award are, for the first time, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in east London (picture above) and Eaton Park in Norwich. I was a judge for Elmhurst Park in Woodbridge, Suffolk, which has won an award for several years.

Green Flag Award scheme manager Paul Todd said:

‘It’s another record-breaking year for the scheme. This is something well worth celebrating and testament to the efforts of the thousands of men and women, supported by some amazing volunteers, who work tirelessly to maintain the high standards demanded by the Green Flag Award. ‘The parks sector is facing some tough challenges so it is heartening to see that they are committed to maintaining and improving standards. We know how passionate people are about our parks and green spaces and the recent Heritage Lottery Fund report, State of UK Public Parks, highlighted the need for everyone to work together to ensure they are maintained for future generations.’

A full list of the award winning spaces can  be found here.


Old School Gardener

Open Ended Spaces

‘Loose parts play’ is a well known term to describe play that is not prescribed, but enables children to use ‘stuff’ to make their own play world. This interesting blog extends that concept into ‘open ended spaces’, where the design is ambiguous, but full of play possibilities. I try to include such spaces when designing playful landscapes – click on the ‘playful landscapes’ category on the right for some examples.

Old School Gardener

Lukeswood- Chair Mary Feeney and Vice Chair John Ibbetson

Lukeswood- Chair Mary Feeney and Vice Chair John Ibbetson

I’ve been a judge on the UK ‘Green Flag’ scheme for about 5 years now. Over the last week I’ve visited two open spaces to assess their applications so I thought I’d share something about the scheme and the sites I’ve visited, which are interesting examples of the sorts of place that are hoping to secure a ‘Green Flag’.

The Green Flag Award® scheme is the benchmark national standard for parks and green spaces in the UK. Currently run by the ‘Keep Britain Tidy’ organisation, it was first launched in 1996 to recognise and reward the best green spaces in the country. The first awards were given in 1997 and, 16 years later, it continues to provide the benchmark against which UK parks and green spaces are measured. It is also seen as a way of encouraging others to achieve high environmental standards, setting a standard of excellence in recreational green areas. Entries for the Green Flag Award® are open to parks or green spaces located in the UK, though the scheme is also being piloted in The Netherlands and Germany.

Green Flag Award® applications are judged against eight key criteria:

1. A welcoming place – when approaching or entering the park/green space, the overall impression for any member of the community – regardless of the purpose of their visit – should be positive and inviting.

2. Healthy, safe and secure – the park/green space must be a healthy, safe and secure place for all members of the community to use. Any issues that have come to light must be addressed in the management plan and implemented on the ground. New issues that arise must be addressed promptly and appropriately.

3. Clean and well maintained – for aesthetic as well as health and safety reasons, issues of cleanliness and maintenance must be adequately addressed.

4. Sustainability – methods used in maintaining the park/green space and its facilities should be environmentally sound, relying on best practices available according to current knowledge. Management should be aware of the range of techniques available to them, and demonstrate that informed choices have been made and are regularly reviewed. 

5. Conservation and heritage – particular attention should be paid to conservation and appropriate management.

6. Community involvement – the park/green space management should actively pursue the involvement of members of the community who represent as many park/green space user groups as possible.

7. Marketing –  a marketing strategy should be in place, which is being implemented and regularly reviewed; there should be good provision of information to users (e.g. about management strategies, activities, features, ways to get involved),  and the space should be promoted as a community resource.

 8. Management – there needs to be a management plan or strategy which is clear, being actively implemented and reviewed and the park should be financially sound.

There is a main scheme and also schemes for Community run and Heritage Green spaces, which have slightly different sets of assessment criteria. The main scheme usually involves two judges making the assessment, whilst at community spaces a lone judge does this.  In the main scheme a ‘desk assessment’ of the Management Plan for the site is carried out and this is followed up with a ‘field assessment’ which gives the chance to check out questions arising from the desk assessment and to examine other issues on the ground. Applicants have to pass both the desk and field assessments and achieve a minimum score to be awarded a ‘Green Flag’. Judges don’t only give scores to the space but also look at the strengths it has against the different criteria and include recommendations designed to help the site improve, where appropriate. This full feedback is, I think, one of the best features of the scheme.

Yesterday I travelled to Suffolk to judge a community – run green space in the village of Elmswell, called ‘Lukeswood’. I was met by the Chair and Vice Chair of ‘Elmswild’ (the group that runs the wood) and given a tour of their site. Here, a group of volunteers aim to improve existing habitats and create new ones, so as to establish a mosaic of woodland, open grassy rides, hedgerows, pond and a wildflower area. The project is focused on involving and benefiting the local community as well as raising awareness of the rarest habitats and species on the site and educating about how these can be protected. Formerly an area of agricultural ‘set aside’ this space of about 9 acres is at the centre of the village next to allotments and cemeteries. Tree planting began in 2010. Early in 2011, with the help of children from Elmswell Primary School, the 1683rd tree was planted – fulfilling a pledge to plant one tree for every house in the village! Over the years the Group plan to plant many more. Lukeswood was named after the Reverend Luke, Rector of Elmswell in the 1860s – described as a ‘Victorian whizzkid’ who introduced many changes, including building the village school. The group like to think that, were he still here today, he would approve of their plans and would enjoy seeing this new addition to the village develop over the coming years. And thanks to continuing fund raising efforts Elmswild have finally succeeded in securing the remaining few acres of land where they plan to establish an orchard (featuring Suffolk varieties of apple).

Whilst I was in the area I popped over to Bury St. Edmunds, where another long-established Green flag site – the Abbey Gardens in the centre of town- is in it’s spring glory (though I wasn’t there to judge it for the Green Flag). It has a long established tradition of seasonal planting in many formal beds. At this time of year – especially as the spring flowers are blooming rather late – it is a fantastic sight. First laid out as a Botanic Garden in 1831, in addition to the formal layout of the central area, there is are open grass areas surrounding the Abbey ruins and an aviary, bowling green, bird feeding area, water, herb and sensory gardens, and a children’s play area.



Last week, with my co – judge, I visited and judged the woodland area known as ‘Pretty Corner Wood’ in north Norfolk. This is a site managed in two parts, one by the District Council (which was the focus of the green flag assessment) and the other part by the Woodland Trust. The wood sits adjacent to the town of Sheringham and provides a wonderful scene of mixed woodland and some glades and other areas, visited in the main by local residents. Recently the Council has been successful in securing funding to bring about a range of improvements to the wood which included putting in a new pathway suitable for wheelchair users that leads to a splendid view of the sea and wind farms on the horizon, as well as a wooden sculpture trail. The woodland is carefully managed to ensure the right mix and density of species and the Council has also sown a wild flower area close to the open glade that makes a great picnic spot. A privately run Tea Rooms also provides a convenient refreshment stop.

Of course I can’t give away any information about how these two sites have faired in this year’s judging, but suffice it to say that they both provide wonderful natural resources to their local communities and are clearly loved by those involved in running and improving them. Its this sort of commitment that not only creates great open spaces for everyone to enjoy today and into the future, but can generate fantastic community spirit.

Green Flag Award home page


Green Flag Award Website

Elmswild website

Pretty Corner Wood information

Abbey Gardens

Old School Gardener

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The Green Flag Award® scheme is the benchmark national standard for parks and green spaces in the UK. It was first launched in 1996 to recognise and reward the best green spaces in the country.

The first awards were given in 1997 and, many years later, it continues to provide the benchmark against which our parks and green spaces are measured. It is also seen as a way of encouraging others to achieve high environmental standards, setting a benchmark of excellence in recreational green areas.

Entries for the Green Flag Award® are open to parks/green spaces located in the UK. We are also currently piloting the scheme in The Netherlands and Germany.

To apply go to Green Flag Award website


Old School Gardener


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