What the Friends did in 2015

The Friends submitted the following Annual Report to the Charities Commission for the year ending December 2015  

The Friends aims and activities: 

The aims of the Friends are to:

  • promote the conservation, protection and improvement of the natural and physical environment of the Park and its peace and natural beauty for the benefit of the public and future generations. 
  • advance the education of the public in relation to the Park’s status as a National Nature Reserve, Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Area of Conservation.

The Friends promotes a “Tread Lightly” approach to the Park. Its volunteers staff the
Richmond Park Visitor Centre, undertake physical conservation works, monitor large-scale events and catalogue and publicise historical records and artefacts connected with the Park. The Friends funds conservation projects, organises walks and courses, 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.

Summary of achievements and performance during the year
2015 was a very successful year for the Friends. Two large conservation projects were completed – Beverley Brook and Poet’s Corner – with a total of £45,000 of funding provided by a public appeal, the Friends own funds and the Visitor Centre. The re-opening of Poet’s Corner was celebrated with a poetry event and a specially-commissioned poem about the Park. The Visitor Centre (staffed by Friends’ volunteers) had a record year and the Friends’ Walks Programme was augmented with weekly bird-watching walks. The Friends’ other volunteering groups continue to make a significant contribution to educating the public and doing practical conservation work; all told there are over 200 volunteers. Once again, the Trustees would like to thank the many volunteers, members, donors and supporters who have contributed so much during the year.

Beverley Brook: The Ponds and Streams Programme, now in its fourth year, is the Friends’ major contribution to the conservation of Richmond Park. With Sir David Attenborough as its patron, it funds the restoration and in some cases construction of new ponds and streams in the Park. In 2014/15 it undertook its largest project, the restoration back to a natural stream of two sections of Beverley Brook, which runs for two kilometres in the Park. The public appeal raised over £17,000, which was matched by contributions from the Friends and the Visitor Centre to bring it to £35,000; that was used as core funding to obtain other grants, particularly from the Environment Agency, to total over £100,000. The work was successfully undertaken in autumn 2015 by The Royal Parks and the South East Rivers Trust.

Poet’s Corner: Poet’s Corner is in Pembroke Lodge Gardens; its centrepiece is a gilded board, erected in the 19th century, commemorating James Thomson a famous mid-18th century poet, who lived in Richmond. The Friends, the Visitor Centre, a local family and The Royal Parks together funded its restoration. The Friends organised a formal opening in June by Sir David Attenborough, patron of the Friends, followed by a celebratory event with four famous actors reading poetry and prose covering 350 years of Richmond Park. The Friends also commissioned a new poem “A Dream of Richmond Park” from David Harsent, the winner of the 2015 T.S. Eliot award for poetry, who read it at the event. A publicly available film records the event.

Open Day: In 2015, The Royal Parks held the first Richmond Park Open Day for five years, with 50 organisations participating and nearly 2,500 visitors, many of them new to the Park. Over 70 Friends’ volunteers provided stewarding at the entrance and on the site, organised a programme of walks and staffed three stalls, including a large nature table for children.

Volunteering: The Friends’ volunteering effort is now stable at around 200 volunteers over eight programmes. In addition to the Visitor Centre’s 70 volunteers, there are practical conservation work, walks and courses, the History Programme, Oak Processionary Moth nest detection, event monitoring, support at fairs and similar events, and the Discoverers Education Programme. There are also many people involved in organising the Friends’ activities themselves. The Trustees estimate that each year the volunteers contribute 10,000 hours, worth nearly £100,000 based on the London Living Wage, to conservation and public education in the Park.

Visitor Centre: Friends’ volunteers staff and organise the day-to-day operations of the
Park’s Visitor Centre. In 2015 the Centre was open 364 days of the year at least from 11.00am to 3.00pm; visitor numbers increased by 30% to 42,000. 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.

Walks and courses: These and the Visitor Centre are the public face of the Friends. In 2015 the Friends offered 25 public walks and courses (a half-hour talk on a topic followed by a walk), i.e. two a month. In addition, the weekly Friday informal birdwatching walks, which were started in 2014, have proved immensely popular, with up to 25 people on them, many of them regulars. The Trustees intend to keep the public walks free and see them as a key part of achieving the Friends’ charitable objectives.

History Programme: The history volunteers work on the Hearsum Collection of material about the Park, cataloguing it and extracting material for public display, articles and the Friends’ and the collection’s websites. It published in digital form “What’s in a Name?” a booklet detailing the origin of the many historical names of the Park’s features, both natural and built.

Discoverers: The Discoverers Education Programme for young people and families is in its third full year and has a committed team of volunteers, who organised six events during the year, including a Spring Bird walk, a Bat Watch, Fascinating Fungi, and a Meet the Tree outreach event to catch families out for a stroll. The events continue to receive excellent reviews.

Policing: For much of 2015, the Friends campaigned together with the Richmond Park Police Panel to preserve adequate policing in the Park in the face of large cuts in funding and to get recognition of the Park’s “environmental policing” requirement, which is very different from the standard Metropolitan Police model. The Friends, together with the Friends of Bushy Park, held meetings with very senior police officers, local MPs and the Royal Parks, but in spite of these efforts the Richmond Park police were cut by over 60%, from ten officers two years ago to three today, equivalent to only half an officer on duty in the Park at any one time. The Trustees are still working to get the most out of the new arrangements.

Other campaigning: The Friends regularly campaigns on issues affecting the Park, using a variety of routes, from behind-the-scenes lobbying to public campaigns, to achieve a campaign’s objective. The Friends was involved in a cycling working party led by Zac Goldsmith MP; our main concerns are to get adequate pedestrian crossings and protect the quiet centre of the Park from plans for a cycling ‘Quietway’ (quiet for cyclists but not for others or the wildlife). The Friends continues to work with The Royal Parks to monitor sporting events in the Park and also made representations about four planning applications during the year. The Friends continues to work with the Park’s Bird Group to get better protection for breeding skylarks.

Plans for the future
The Friends plans to continue its activities broadly along the present lines. In particular, the Trustees want to be more active in communicating its special nature to visitors to the Park; Trustees plan to produce a short film with its patron Sir David Attenborough about the Park’s rich ecology and the need to protect it and to “Tread Lightly”. The Trustees plan to develop the volunteering effort further and are seeking new conservation projects to fund as the Ponds and Streams programme is completed. The Trustees will also continue to campaign about policing and other issues.


Ron Crompton

3 March 2016