Britain’s parks and gardens are acclaimed internationally, whilst gardening and garden visiting are among the most popular national pastimes. Yet, this vital resource still has no effective statutory protection, to match that given to buildings, despite its vulnerability to modern pressures for housing, golf courses and other changes of use. As a result, many fine gardens and parks have been lost or irretrievably damaged.
The County Gardens Trust Movement (now collected under The Gardens Trust) was begun as a direct response to this threat – the first trust being founded in Sussex in 1980, with Warwickshire following in 1991. Each trust strives to record and register parks and gardens of outstanding quality on the Parks and Gardens UK database, monitor threats to them and campaign vigorously to preserve them. In recognition, The Gardens Trust has been appointed a statutory consultant on planning matters relating to registered gardens, albeit having no enforcement powers.
Warwickshire has a particularly fine collection of listed parks and gardens with two being of international merit, Warwick Castle and Farnborough, both having the highest acknowledgement as registered Grade I by Historic England. Yet, Warwick Castle seems to be particularly vulnerable to commercial imperatives, both from its owner, Merlin Entertainment Group [MEG], and from government housing demands. MEG seems able to get whatever it wants from a council understandably wishing to support a major employer and visitor attraction, regardless of the ensuing damage caused by a glamping site to the environment of Foxes Study, but also appears to flout the scant regulations in place when destroying the C19 Rose Garden, to replace it with a “Horrible Histories Maze” – a clear breach of rules for “change of setting to a listed Grade I building”. Meanwhile, the Secretary of State for communities and local government undermines the governments own protection guidelines by allowing housing projects around the edge of the park, granting permission for 900 houses at The Asps – even in the face of opposition from the county council’s planning inspector – and a further 450 houses on Gallows Hill.
If we have to be ever vigilant in attempting to protect the county’s most important gardens from the very powers entrusted to conserve them, what chance the lesser?