Photo: ©Bartek Olszewski @1WildShot
Managing the Park during COVID
(from Friends’ autumn newsletter)
While we were all enjoying Richmond Park’s tranquillity during lockdown and then the hot summer weather, what was it like to manage it? Simon Richards, the Park Manager’s answer is ‘a challenge’.
Staff numbers were well down. His management team and grounds maintenance contractors were fully staffed throughout, but fifty Royal Parks staff were furloughed, including the whole ecology team.
In contrast, the work was well up. Closing and then re-opening the Park and its facilities was difficult to plan and implement. Toilets, for example, were particularly challenging: it was difficult to maintain social distancing and the cleaning staff travelled by public transport, risking infection.
There was a substantial increase in visitors, many coming for the first time, and this caused a range of problems, including damage, litter and antisocial behaviour. In particular, large groups of young people partying into the night created mountains of litter. Litter, Simon says, was one of his two biggest problems.
Drought was the other big problem. At lockdown, the Park was saturated from high winter rainfall, but within a few weeks it became parched and, in places, badly eroded by the greater visitor numbers. Trees suffered. Staff were diverted to provide virtually continuous watering of the most vulnerable trees. Even so some trees died or were weakened and an abnormal number of days of high winds caused many to shed limbs, needing fencing to protect the public from them. Ragwort flourished and threatened to take over areas of acid grassland. On the plus side, however, it was a good summer for invertebrates, especially butterflies, and for birds.
Financially, the period has also been difficult. The Royal Parks (TRP) receives 85% of its money from commercial income and this year has lost most of it. The Hyde Park concerts, Winter Wonderland and the Half Marathon have been cancelled; catering and filming income are much lower. In Richmond Park, the Duathlon and Ride London were cancelled, and Pembroke Lodge’s weddings and catering are restricted (although the golf courses have been flat out since the end of lockdown). Throughout TRP, budgets have been cut and big projects, including two in Richmond Park, have stopped. It will take two to three years before TRP’s finances are back to normal and it has re-built the reserves that have been used in surviving the effects of coronavirus.
Simon’s last words are a huge thanks to the sections of the local community and many volunteers that have supported him through this period. We, in turn, give grateful thanks to him and his team.