The Friends' Annual General Meeting was held on 8 April. Here is a review of our achievements in 2016.
The Friends’ volunteers staff the Richmond Park Visitor Centre, undertake conservation projects, organise public walks and courses, monitor large-scale events and work on the history of the Park. The Friends funds conservation projects, has a Discoverers programme for young families, publishes guides and communicates with the public and its members through a website, Facebook page, a printed newsletter three times a year and a monthly e-bulletin. The Friends is run on a voluntary basis and has no paid members of staff.
The Friends made good progress in 2016 with a record performance from the Visitor Centre, the production of the film and two successful large public campaigns. However, we are struggling to protect the Park against the rapidly increasing number of visitors as Richmond Park becomes famous, through social media, to Londoners and other visitors. A growing part of our activities are devoted to educating visitors about the Park and their impact on its ecology and wildlife, but it became clear in 2016 that we have a long way to go to catch up with this new development.
The Friends’ volunteering effort is now stable at around 200 volunteers over eight programmes. The largest is the Visitor Centre’s 60 volunteers, followed by Oak Processionary Moth nest detection (40 volunteers). Other programmes are practical conservation work, walks and courses, the history of the Park, Park monitoring, support at fairs, the AGM and similar events, and the Discoverers Education Programme. There are also many people involved in organising the Friends’ activities themselves. The Trustees estimate that the volunteers contribute 10,000 hours a year, worth nearly £95,000 based on the London Living Wage, to conservation and public education in the Park. Once again, the Trustees would like to thank the many volunteers who have contributed so much during the year.
Some 60 Friends’ volunteers staff and organise the day-to-day operations of the Park’s Visitor Centre, which provides information about the Park and items for sale related to the Park or nature and wildlife. In 2016 the Centre was open 364 days of the year, at least from 11 am to 3 pm. The Centre had 52,000 visitors, an increase of 25% over 2015 (and 60% over 2014) – a remarkable achievement. The Visitor Centre is a key to the Friends’ objective to educate the public about the special nature of Richmond Park and help the public to appreciate its ecology, wildlife and heritage.
In late 2015, the Friends started production of a film about Richmond Park with Sir David Attenborough. The aim is to change people’s perception of the Park from seeing it as just a local park to valuing it as a National Nature Reserve with a rich ecology and wildlife that should be protected. The 20-minute film (with a 3 minute ‘short’ for social media) is being led by film-maker George Chan and others who have worked with Attenborough on Planet Earth. It tells the story of different aspects of the ecology and wildlife and the impact of visitors on them, ending with a request to viewers to Tread Lightly. The total cost is £50,000 of which the Friends is funding half and donations from the Kaye Pemberton Trust, the Hearsum Collection and the Visitor Centre the other half. It will be launched in April/May 2017.
The Friends regularly campaigns on issues affecting the Park, using a variety of approaches, from behind-the-scenes lobbying to public campaigns. In 2016 we had two successful public campaigns. The first was about gel packs and strips discarded in the Park by cyclists in Ride London and the London Duathlon, which can be eaten by deer leading to digestive problems and even death. After media coverage, both race organisers committed to tackle the problem in their 2017 events. The second was about the destruction of the protected view from King Henry’s Mound in the Park to St Paul’s by a 42-story development at Stratford. Our protests received widespread media and political support and the Mayor committed to change the rules on protected views to prevent it happening again. We also worked on less public campaigns such as the proposed cycling Quietway and planned new developments around the Park; we continue to work with the Park’s Bird Group on skylark protection.
A group of Friends’ volunteers regularly monitors what is happening in the Park. We monitor the three annual large sporting events – Ride London, Duathlon and Human Race - and produce reports that we and The Royal Parks can use to discuss problems with the organisers. We also monitor problems in the Park generally on busy week-ends. On two week-ends in spring we collected data on the number of actual breaches of Park regulations – a sort of ‘crime survey’. These were many times more (in some cases 30 times more) than those recorded by official police statistics, and provided data to support the case for increased police manning at week-ends.
The Friends makes a practical contribution to conservation through its volunteer team who undertake regular Saturday sessions removing rhododendron and planting trees. We also continue to fund conservation projects, including part funding of a lichen survey and a third tern raft on Pen Ponds. A tern raised and tagged on a Park tern raft funded by the Friends was found in West Africa on its annual migration.
Friends publishing and merchandise.
The Friends started significant publishing in 2011 with the Guide to Richmond Park and Family Trails; both are still selling slowly through the Visitor Centre. Subsequently we have produced Christmas cards, postcards and the Friends calendar. In 2016 we sold 1200 calendars and it was used by our sponsor Russell Cooke to send to their clients. We also trialled a range of merchandise specially designed for us – tea towels, caps, hats, bags - which has sold reasonably well. All profits go to conservation projects in the Park.
The Discoverers Education Programme for young families is in its fourth full year and has a committed team of volunteers. Some of the five events were repeats of popular events from the last year, such as a Bat Watch and Fascinating Fungi, and some new including a Bones & Feathers workshop in spring and a Moon Watch on the Super Moon in November. The events continue to receive very good reviews.
Walks and courses:
These and the Visitor Centre are the public face of the Friends. In 2016 the Friends offered over 20 public walks and courses (a half-hour talk on a topic followed by a walk), i.e. nearly two a month. Over 80 people turned out for the Boxing Day walk and a similar number for a course on veteran trees in November. In addition, the weekly Friday informal birdwatching walks, which were started in 2014, have proved immensely popular, with an average of 30 people on them. The Trustees intend to keep the public walks free and see them as a key part of achieving the Friends’ charitable objectives.
Membership. In 2016
we continued to get some fall out from the increase in the membership subscription in January 2015 from £6 to £10 for an individual and from £10 to £15 for a household. The Friends now has 1610 memberships or 2360 members (counting one member for an individual subscription and two for a household subscription) – a fall of 2.5% on 2015. Overall the net loss in members since January 2015 has been quite small (about 6%), suggesting that members still regard their subscription to the Friends as good value. We are now gaining more members than we are losing.
Plans for the future.
The Friends plans to continue its activities broadly along the present lines, but with a greater emphasis on protecting the Park from the impact of increasing visitor numbers and the issue of the sustainability of the Park in the long-term. We plan to launch the film in April/May and follow up with a campaign focusing on “Tread Lightly”, including aspects such as deer harassment and skylarks. The Trustees plan to strengthen our volunteering effort further and to fund more conservation projects.
Chairman, Friends of Richmond Park