The Green Flag Award Scheme

Parks and open spaces are at the heart of communities. The Green Flag Award Scheme is an accreditation given to publicly accessible parks and open spaces, that seeks to promote standards of good management and best practice among the green space sectors. In 1997, when the first Green Flag was awarded, the green space sector in the United Kingdom was in a parlous state.  Decades of underfunding had left many once proud and beautiful historic city-centre parks derelict, dangerous, no-go areas, and many other green spaces were neglected or barely maintained.  Experts with a shared interest in promoting natural spaces from a range of backgrounds came together in response to this decline.

Today, the Green Flag Award is managed under licence from the UK Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government by ‘Keep Britain Tidy’; a not-for-profit environmental charity which also administers the scheme in England.  Keep Britain Tidy also sub-licenses the scheme in other countries. The Green Flag Award Scheme recognises and rewards well-managed parks and green spaces, setting the benchmark standard for management of recreational outdoor spaces across the United Kingdom and around the world. As highlighted in the report, Celebrating Amazing Spaces (2016), the scheme has delivered change not only in the green spaces sector, but also for university campuses, cemeteries and crematoria, housing associations, hospitals and canals and waterways. A report by the Heritage Lottery Fund (2016), titled State of UK’s Public Parks, indicates that 34 million people visit a park regularly in the UK. To put this into context, more people visited a park each year than voted in the 2015 UK general election.

Each year parks, reserves and green spaces are nominated for the Green Flag Award. To be a successful Green Flag Award winner, industry experts assess the nominated parks against 27 different criteria divided into eight sections. This includes a ‘welcoming place’, ‘healthy, safe and secure’, ‘well maintained and clean’, ‘environmental management’, ‘biodiversity, landscape and heritage’, ‘community involvement, ‘marketing and communication’ and finally, ‘overall management’.

Green Flag Awards Australia

On 24 November 2021, the Australian 2021 award recipients at the Parks and Leisure Australia Awards of Excellence were announced. Across Australia, City Parklands (Qld) (Roma Street and South Bank Parklands), Western Down Regional Council (Qld), Queanbeyan Palerang Regional Council (NSW) (Queanbeyan and Queen Elizabeth II Park), City of Greater Bendigo (Vic) and City of Campbelltown (SA) were recognised as nation-leading examples of the eight criterion sections of the Green Flag Award. Winning a Green Flag Award brings with it a wealth of benefits, from the status of being affiliated with a prestigious awards programme through to tangible benefits such as boosting tourism and creating revenue opportunities. Upgrading a site to achieve Green Flag status can, for example, bring about improvements to health and education, reduce crime and improve the general cleanliness of an area, whilst at the same time providing a boost to its profile. Additionally, improving facilities at a park/green space and engaging more with the local community can have a knock-on effect to the regeneration of an area.

Movements like the Green Flag Award are needed if parks and open spaces are to raise the standard of achievement for the environment and well-being of communities.

National Park Cities

The Green Flag Award Scheme has led to other movements such as the National Park City Foundation, which was established as a registered charity in the UK to promote the idea of bringing ‘National Park Cities’ to life in London and internationally. According to the United Nations, two-thirds of people will live in urban areas by 2050. With 70% of the global population predicted to be living in cities by 2050, the need to have wildlife, nature and biodiversity in our cities has never been more crucial for our well-being and existence. The ambition by the international NGO World Urban Parks to establish 25 National Park Cities by 2025 worldwide is testament to this. In fact, Adelaide has already risen to the challenge.

In December 2021, a formal announcement was made by the  global National Park City Foundation that Adelaide had been named the world’s second National Park City, enhancing the city’s reputation as the most liveable in Australia. The South Australian Minister for Environment and Water remarked that, Adelaide National Park City status isn’t just another title for our city, it is a trigger to promote and connect people with on-ground action to look after our environment for everyone’s health and wellbeing, as well as boost our economy through increased tourism.”

(The title National Park City reflects the distinctive UK meaning of the term National Park which encompasses private land, unlike Australian usage which has traditionally been confined to public land. The UK national park is analogous to a zone within an Australian planning scheme).

The legacy of the Green Flag Award scheme has also sparked the establishment of the ‘Green Flag Award Knowledge Day’ as part of the World Parks Congress which took place in December 2021. The international online event was organised by World Urban Parks and hosted virtually by several major cities: Los Angeles (USA), San Pedro (Mexico) and Sydney (Australia). The Congress  brought together city and community leaders, park professionals, partners, affiliates and engaged citizens under the shared goal of advancing parks through intentional successful strategies.

Green Spaces Resources Hub

As part of the ‘Knowledge Day’, many speakers provided reference documents to be uploaded free onto the Green Spaces Resources Hub, which was launched at the 2020 World Parks Congress, as a comprehensive library curated from all over the word. Database platforms like this that are made publicly available, help foster and enhance knowledge worldwide on the environmental challenges still facing park management, but can also be used as a forum to celebrate and recognise the continued professionalism of urban landscape management and maintenance. The Hub has also allowed public access to the latest park-related research findings, events and collaboration opportunities from academic and research organisations across the globe. Following on from that success, and in partnership with the Universities of Leeds and Sheffield it was announced during the congress that the Green Flag Award will be launching the next stage of knowledge exchange – The Parks and Green Spaces Research Portal.

The Hub and the Portal are fulfilling a function on an international scale that PaRC aims to fulfil for Australian and Western Pacific resources.