Redcar and Cleveland is celebrating after two of its green spaces were officially recognised as being amongst the country’s best yet again.
Keep Britain Tidy’s Green Flag Award was given to Flatts Lane Woodland Country Park and Guisborough Branch Walkway last week, amongst 2208 winning locations from across the UK.
The award demands very high standards and is the international quality mark for parks and green spaces.
Paul Bamber and Paul Murphy are Redcar and Cleveland Council’s Countryside Rangers, supported by Assistant Ranger, Megan Wilson, apprentice Rhys Marshall and a small army of dedicated volunteers. The impact of the pandemic on their work was enormous, making the Green Flag award even more meaningful. When the first lockdown hit, all parks and open spaces were initially closed, but quickly reopened to support the public’s mental and physical health. Lockdown rules did not permit volunteers to be on site, however. In short, these green spaces became even more precious, more heavily utilised – yet without a fundamental part of their workforce.
“We are still catching up now, two years after we suddenly found ourselves as a tiny team having to rotate around every countryside location in the borough without our volunteers,” explains Paul Bamber, who looks after the Flatts Lane site. “We put a lot of work into developing new self-led trails, site features and a map, building up to a big publicity push and lost all that momentum when Covid hit. Our time is more dominated with repairs and catch-up now but we still think a lot about new initiatives and are looking forward to getting the sites even better than before!”
Paul Murphy, ranger at Guisborough Branch Walkway and several other locations across the borough has worked for the council for 18 years: “We found ourselves battling not to let the environments we were responsible for get out of control,” he said. “They still needed to be maintained, were still receiving visitors and it was a tough job; but we love our work and are getting closer now to being able to look at future plans again.”
The Countryside Ranger role requires a relevant degree - Bamber’s being in Geography and Murphy’s in Environment Management - along with other crucial licences and training, such as a chainsaw licence, tree climbing and emergency tree felling. The stark contrast between the type of qualifications necessary serve to highlight the diversity of the role.
“One day you’ll be working on habitat creation and restoration strategies, perhaps to encourage a certain type of wildlife or to protect native trees from outside threats; the next you’ll be up a tree with a chainsaw, digging a pond or leading an educational session with young people - from primary school children all the way up to students from Durham University,” says Paul Murphy. “We can go from bug hunts and den building to important conservation projects in the same day!”
“It’s a bit of a Swiss Army knife job,” laughs Paul Bamber. “On the one hand, it’s like gardening on a massive scale – but there’s also liaising with contractors and sculptors; applying for funding; training people up; promoting and running events. We regularly work with partner agencies to combat illegal access issues, fires and vandalism and making these spaces safe again too. It’s such diverse work.”
“We know our sites so well that if someone who’s lost sends us a picture of where they are, it can be like, ‘Oh look – they’re by that old sycamore!’” adds Paul Murphy. “But it’s important to play the long game with the overall management of the locations. A healthy, biodiverse countryside is significant to tackling climate change, and we want these areas to be enjoyed by generations to come.”
Councillor Barry Hunt, cabinet member for Neighbourhoods and Housing, said:
“These areas are vital green spaces for both visitors and communities across Redcar and Cleveland and this award reflects the sheer hard work of the staff and volunteers involved, whose support is invaluable to us. Huge congratulations to our Natural Heritage Manager Kevin Wilson, Countryside Officer Karen Preston and every single member of our Rangers and volunteer teams.”
The Green Flag Award scheme, managed by environmental charity Keep Britain Tidy under licence from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, recognises and rewards well-managed parks and green spaces, setting the benchmark standard for the management of green spaces across the United Kingdom and around the world.
For more information on these two Green Flag winning sites, visit The Friends of Flatts Lane Country Park | Facebook and Friends of Guisborough Forest & Walkway | Facebook
This month we’re celebrating all our parks and outdoor spaces for #OurGreatOutdoors . Find out more throughout August on the Council’s Facebook page and social media.