Many locals hold Greenwich Park near and dear to their hearts but Park Manager Graham Dear lives and breathes it. “You can’t manage a park like this from a desk,” Graham told the Weekender.
The oldest royal park, and the only park in the UK that’s a designated World Heritage site, Greenwich dates back to 1433 with Saxon burial grounds and Roman ruins. The remains of Queen Caroline’s baths hark back to the wild parties she used to throw there. The design of the Park is a bold political statement; in the 1660s, Charles II commissioned Louis XIV’s gardener Le Notre to design the French style landscape, most of which remains today with avenues of sweet Spanish chestnut trees.
“Greenwich Park is like a mini Versailles,” Graham said. “It’s inspired by when Charles II was in exile in France. He was making a political statement with this grand design and the avenues of trees.”
This year marks ten years of managing Greenwich Park for Graham, who studied horticulture and has always worked in park management. As a world heritage site, the green space comes with constrictions. “There’s so much variety to this job,” Graham said. “Fundraising, meetings with tree contractors and stakeholders. We’ve got 20 gardeners…”
“But raising money is the biggest thing,” he continued.
With 5 million people visiting the park every year, it’s had its share of wear and tear. Greenwich Park Revealed is applying for a multi-million pound investment to “future proof” it for generations.
The park has lots of built structures that require constant maintenance. “There’s a mile of boundary walls. At the moment we’ve got contractors repairing the front gates. A main cable for the London underground runs underneath the park so we have excavation work. Tree pruning is constant, and then responding to high winds,” Graham said.
Festivals and events like the London marathon bring huge footfall through the park.
“For the Big Half we have 17,000 runners through the area. For the London marathon it’s 31000,” Graham said.
While it’s an international tourist destination, 70 percent of park visitors are Londoners. “The Reveal project is about future proofing the park,” Graham said. “The population is growing. We average around 400-500 visitors a weekend at the playground. 2018 is the first time since the late 1930s that the population peaked. And it’s all flats that are being built around here. This park is their backyard.”
The park must respond to changing needs. “People are living outdoors more,” Graham said. “20 years ago there was no garden staff here on weekends and litter collection was only from Monday to Friday,” Graham said. “People used to go on picnics and they’d bring sandwiches from home. Now they get Uber Eats deliveries.”
Globalisation has brought with it all kinds of new pests and diseases. “A lot of the Dutch Elm trees were destroyed in the ‘70s and replaced with Lime. We’re losing horse chestnuts,” Graham said.
But this is all part of the job. “We just want to make sure this park is always there for people,” Graham said.
So what sets Greenwich Park apart from the other Royal Parks? “What’s unique is the views. I love the history, the landscape, the wildlife. It’s a real oasis,” Graham said. “It’s different every day. The light changes. You’ll never get bored.”
“Wolfe statue is the best seated view in London.”
Greenwich Park Revealed aims to raise £8 million for a long term project running from 2020-2024; they’re applying for £4.8 million from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.
If successful with its application, Greenwich Park Revealed will:
• Create a new eco-friendly Learning Centre to provide local
communities with hands on learning and wellbeing experiences inspired
by Greenwich Park’s nature and heritage
• Encourage local communities to engage more fully with the park through events, an archaeology project, volunteering, horticulture apprenticeships and work experience for local tourism and leisure, event management and hospitality students
• Improve visitor facilities such as cafés, toilets, viewing points and
sources of information
• Provide better access across the park for people with disabilities
• Restore landscape features from Andre Le Notre’s original
17th century baroque design for the park
• Bring the Flower Garden back to its original glory with wildlife-friendly planting in keeping with its formal, Edwardian design, improving the water quality of the lake and adding natural play for children
• Enhance the Wilderness Park for wildlife providing better views of the deer and refuges for nesting birds, and replant diseased and dying sections of the park’s tree avenues
• Improve sustainability with better waste recycling and reducing water use through an innovative system that will improve water quality in the boating lake
• Create new interpretation to tell the story of London’s most historic park.