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Applauding the unsung heroes who manage our award winning parks and beaches

A blog post by Jamie Ormiston

Jamie Ormiston
Beaches and Parks Officer

Posted 14/10/2020

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Our Beaches and Parks Officer Jamie Ormiston, reminds us why we should applaud the unsung heroes who have kept our award winning parks and beaches beautiful during this challenging year for us all to enjoy.

What is it you value the most when outdoors? When I was growing up it was freedom. The freedom to think, play and explore the way that I wanted with the only limit being my imagination. I could outrun dinosaurs in a mismanaged wildlife park, assist my alien best friend to escape Earth and return to his home planet, or be shrunk down by my Dad’s incompetence after carelessly leaving his scientific equipment unattended.

As an adult, there is something very calming and consistent about being outdoors. Perhaps it is the fresh air or the peace and quiet. Maybe it is the explosion of colour as the summer turns to autumn or the steady and reliable crash of the waves on soft golden sands which settles a busy brain. Whatever it is we value the most from the outdoors, it is important that the outdoors is there for us.

From my house you can go down the hill, round the corner, across the street and opposite the shop there is a small village park. A couple of football pitches, a play park, tennis courts and a well established pond provide a refuge from the makeshift home office. If its balancing on a stool at the breakfast bar or sinking into your new, luxurious office chair you managed to bag from the Swedish shop before the whole world needed to improve their home working space, you may feel the need to get outside for a breath of fresh air or stretch your seized, sinewy relics of muscles and tendons back into a recognisable body part.  

As discussed in countless blogs, opinion pieces and newspaper articles, clean and accessible outdoor spaces are now more important than ever. We were so close to ‘getting back to normal’. Schools, bars, shops all reopening created a sense of safety. Surely the virus was gone now…no? Then the sudden spread and dreaded ‘second peak’ has shown us this virus stops for no one. As soon as there is a bridge for it to cross, i.e. close contact between households indoors, it will charge over indiscriminately.

We have realised the vital role these green and blue spaces play and grown to cherish them more and more as restrictions tightened around us. We now hold our local patch, be it a park, hill, loch, river, or beach, close to our hearts as the only constant in the huge swelling seas of 2020. These places remain our sanctuary, the only protection we have from the virus at this moment is space and fresh air. For now we may not be able to meet other people in our homes but we can still use these vital spaces to keep our health and wellbeing in check.  

We have also had to change our holidaying habits. The days of jumping on a plane and jetting off to a steady 30 degrees Celsius, buckets of vino tinto and multiple plates of tapas all for the price of a train across our own country are effectively on hold. But actually, nothing quite beats a holiday at home and I am lucky enough to have all of Scotland as my back garden. I love nothing more than disappearing off to a place unknown and exploring every nook and cranny. Perhaps is it a formal garden full of colour and variety from across the world. Could even be the rolling heather clad hills of our national parks. Even better, white sandy beaches or deep and varied rock pools brimming with life. Scotland’s mind-bending assortment of landscapes provide a pallet that wouldn’t look out of place in the paint mixing section of your local DIY store.

Cambuslang

Kirkcaldy Seafield

Corstorphine

But something that all these spaces have in common that we can take for granted is human intervention and in particular, excellent management. Recently, reports about the decline in the Earth’s biodiversity have been bleak and a reminder that our impact runs deeps. And whilst we have our own responsibility to make some of the changes necessary as well as pile the pressure on the usual suspects, there are people out there doing some wonderful work without us even realising it.

The truth is, good management often goes unnoticed. The colours and smells can distract us from the immaculate flower bed providing food and shelter for beasties of all shapes and sizes. The carefully planned grass cutting schedule leads to a range of habitats in relatively small areas. Sand dune restoration increases the likelihood of improved habitat through succession, where plants start to colonise barren looking sandy dune systems (check your high school geography notes).

Human intervention also leads to more accessible spaces for everyone to enjoy whilst protecting the most fragile sites. Clean and accessible beaches are no doubt appreciated but the hours/days/weeks/months of litter picking, hedge trimming, toilet cleaning, sign erecting, life guarding, bin emptying, car parking, and window washing, is not witnessed in the two or three hours the average visitor is sunning themselves. During COVID-19 these jobs have become increasingly more difficult as restrictions and resources tightened like a blood pressure monitor.

There are a number of groups and organisations we have to thank for this. Land owners, local authorities, management organisations, community groups and individuals all come together to create and maintain these spaces for everyone. Whilst the rest of us are sitting in front of a computer screen or scrolling through the streaming services for the 700th time, these unsung hero’s are maintaining our favourite outdoor spaces.

Whilst lockdown closed almost every service and facility in the country, there were teams working tirelessly to meet the expectations of visitors to their park, green space or beach and get them open again. Introducing new protocols to fit the ‘new normal’, staff and volunteers have had to install signage, fill hand sanitiser, and even clean toilets after every user in order to keep everyone safe whilst visiting.

At Keep Scotland Beautiful we try and do our bit to celebrate these spaces and the people managing them. Through our awards programmes, we are able to see first hand the wonderful work being carried out to keep these places accessible. The Green Flag Award for parks and green spaces look at eight criteria in the management of green spaces. The most welcoming and safe places promoting excellent environmental management are rewarded each year. This year sees a record 77 spaces, from huge regional parks to small community gardens, in Scotland being awarded.

Scotland’s Beach Awards do something similar for our wonderful blue spaces in Scotland. Safe and accessible beaches in a variety of settings are promoted to guide users to the best managed beaches in the country. 

So, the next time you are outside and experiencing nature, take a minute to look around you and see where human intervention has improved your experience. Let’s offer a collective thank you to the hard working staff and volunteers who are maintaining our beauty spots. And whilst you are at it, take a photo of their award flags and share them on your social media channels @ksbscotland. By doing so, all those involved will hopefully feel the appreciation they deserve.

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