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Northern Ireland Environment Link Logo

Celebrating Park Staff 22 October 2020

The Parks Staff Keeping NI’s Green Spaces Open During COVID



Photo – courtesy Mid and East Antrim Council.

As Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful’s Green Flag Awards Week 2020 [12–16 October] comes to a close, 78 of Northern Ireland’s best–managed parks and open spaces have been recognised with the international standard of excellence, the Green Flag Award.

Our sometimes overlooked and under appreciated green spaces have been highlighted as havens for many during the current COVID 19 Pandemic.  They play a central role in helping to support and link local communities; provide recreational space, safe zones to escape and decompress, and help individuals cope with depression, anxiety and stress, so vital for health and wellbeing. 

Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful (KNIB), the environmental charity that operate the Green Flag Award Scheme in Northern Ireland, has witnessed a surge in successful participating locations since the initial three awarded sites in 2008.

KNIB Local Environmental Quality Manager, Jamie Miller said,

“This year more than ever we have seen the value our parks and green spaces offer to people in Northern Ireland. They play a hugely important role in supporting the health and wellbeing of our local communities. Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful are therefore delighted that we are able to award the Green Flag Status to 78 parks and green spaces.”

To achieve the Green Flag award applicants must meet robust measures, which include a site management plan and evidence candidates comply with a range of strict criteria including horticultural standards, cleanliness, environmental management, biodiversity, community involvement and safety standards.

Judged annually by a volunteer panel of experts, who assess the management plans and the applicant sites through a rigorous judging process, the awards also recognise the great input of community–based ventures through the Green Flag Community Awards, where the sites are managed and maintained by loyal volunteers working at a local level.

However, without the on–going hard work of the park managers, staff and volunteers from our local green spaces in Northern Ireland, none of this would be possible. From behind the scenes key workers from Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council and Mid and East Antrim Borough Council l share their lockdown lowdown on their on–going efforts to keep our local parks and green spaces safe and sound during the pandemic and beyond.

Leanne McShane (Parks Development Officer) and David Mayers (Parks Development Officer) Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council –

“As key workers we continued working through the last lockdown and were asked to help out in other areas such as refuse and waste across the Borough. Our recreational sites and parks closed initially, as our first priority is always the safety of our users. However, once reopened, we saw a significant increase in footfall with perhaps the biggest hurdle being our signage, as we had to ensure users were aware of new procedures.

 We feel that lockdown brought with it then and will do once again now, a newfound respect and a greater appreciation of parks along with the ability to reconnect with nature. In particular, safe open spaces gives a sense of freedom for many who struggle with mental health issues, helping them to cope with life and pandemic challenges. Parks have become an essential service for mental as well as physical health and we continue to strive to maintain a high standard with restricted staff, by introducing innovative design and planting.

Social distancing didn’t stop during the summer months as we ran our Get Active Outdoors Summer Programme with a diversity of activities, from serene Tai Chi to Baby and Mum and Green Gyms to Boot Camps. Everyone should make use of their local parks as they continue to offer a welcoming, safe and accessible place to meet or just be.”

Lindsay Houston (Principal Parks Officer) and Alison Diver (Growing Communities

 Officer) – Mid and East Antrim Council

“Our golf course at Whitehead, has been a huge success this year with more than 65% increase in memberships from last year. Lockdown certainly highlights what is important to people and it is clear that parks, open spaces and nature are high up on the priority list. It also became obvious to us that the parks and open spaces are a lifeline to many.  While we are always very happy to see people using our open spaces, the current situation brings a new level of concern with regard to ensuring that sites are safe and people are using them appropriately. We have seen a massive increase in daily footfall in all the parks in the Borough.

Our allotment garden facilities have remained open through the pandemic. We’ve seen waiting lists for plots increase dramatically as more people have realised the benefits of growing your own for physical and mental health and wellbeing and for food security. I’m hopeful we’ll be able to expand our provision to accommodate the growing demand.

The downside has been increased litter and some damage to sites. While the vast majority of our visitors take good care and leave as they find, it would seem that there will always be an element with little regard for their local environment or responsibility for their actions. 

Luckily we also have a great network of volunteers who have been busy on litter picks, planting, carrying out wildlife surveys and by walking sites regularly and reporting back any issues. As always, we’re very grateful to them all.


We were delighted to see nature thriving, especially during the initial lockdown, with an otter spotted along the River Bann and wildflowers all along the Coast Road and a rare sighting of a Holly Blue butterfly. Such wildlife sightings shouldn’t be unusual but unfortunately they are becoming more so.


We plan to significantly reduce our herbicide usage over the next few years for the benefit of both people and wildlife, and hope the public will accept that some areas will look a little wilder and learn from the emergence of wildlife when nature is given more of a chance to thrive.


We’ve also partnered with the Woodland Trust to plant 58,000 trees over the next five years, one for each household in the Borough. We planted just over 17,000 trees last winter and will do similar, if not more this year.


Overall, we are hopeful that people now realise the importance of nature and green space, not just during the pandemic, and will make a more concerted effort to do their bit for the environment and to support us doing the same.


With the current 4–week lockdown and continued concern, parks and open spaces continue to play a huge part in both physical and mental health and wellbeing, providing safe places for play, exercise and socialising – at a distance of course!“


Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful have been celebrating our award winning parks and open spaces and the people who make it all possible through a social media campaign which started on Monday 12 October.

Information and guidance on how to enjoy a safe and healthy visit to sites of outdoor recreation in Northern Ireland can be found at:

If you are interested in finding out further information about the Green Flag Award, becoming a Green Flag judge or other programmes run by Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful please e–mail us on call us on 028 9073 6920 or check out our website


More photographs available on request.

For further information please contact Gill McNeill on 07850 657785 or






Note to Editors

Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful

Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful is a charity working towards the vision of a cleaner, greener Northern Ireland by running environmental education programmes and awareness raising campaigns, increasing volunteering opportunities and reporting on local environmental quality. Programmes include the BIG Spring Clean, Adopt A Spot, Clean Coasts, the Live Here Love Here Community Awards as well as local environmental quality programmes such as international Eco–Schools, EcoCampus and Blue Flag, the Seaside Award, Cleaner Neighbourhoods and Marine Litter surveys, Green Key and the Live Here Love Here Green Business Awards. For more information, visit or view our Media Kit here.

Green Flag Award

Green Flag Award is the benchmark national standard for parks and green spaces in the UK. It was first launched in 1996 to recognise and reward the best green spaces in the country. The first awards were given in 1997 and, many years later, it continues to provide the high level of quality against which our parks and green spaces are measured. It is also seen as a way of encouraging others to achieve high environmental standards, setting a benchmark of excellence in recreational green areas. A total of 2096 accredited parks and green spaces will be flying the Green Flag Award this year across 14 countries and spanning 4 continents. More than any other parks accreditation scheme in the world.  2019 marks the 23rd year of the Green Flag Award throughout the UK, the award has been running in Northern Ireland since 2008, with 76 spaces being in awarded in 2019.


At the time of issue of this media release parks and green spaces remain open.

List of 2020 Winners:

            Antrim & Newtownabbey Borough Council

1          Antrim Loughshore and Gateway

2          Antrim Castle Gardens (Heritage)

3          Antrim/Belmont Cemetery

4          Ballynure Old Graveyard

5          Jordanstown Loughshore Park, Hazelbank Park and Gideons Green

6          Kilbride Cemetery

7          Lilian Bland Park

8          Mallusk Cemetery

9          Mill Race Trail

10        Newtownabbey Way

11        Randalstown Riverside Walk

12        Rashee Cemetery

13        Sentry Hill Historic House & Visitor Centre (Heritage)

14        Sixmile Water Park

15        Valley Park (V36 and Glas–na–braden Glen)

16        Wallace Park

            Ards and North Down Borough Council

17        Ballymenoch Park

18        Castle Park

19        Kiltonga Nature Reserve

20        Linear Park Bangor

21        Londonderry Park

            Armagh City, Banbridge & Craigavon Borough Council

22        ABC Canal Greenway

23        Brownstown Park

24        Edenvilla Park

25        Gosford Park

26        Loughbrickland Park

27        Lurgan Public Park

28        Portadown People’s Park

29        Solitude Park

30        Tannaghmore Gardens

31        Palace Demesne

            Belfast City Council

32        Barnett Demesne

33        Belfast Botanic Gardens (Heritage)

34        Belmont Park

35        Cavehill Country Park

36        Connswater Community Greenway

37        Drumglass Park

38        Dunmurry Village

39        Dunville Park

40        Falls Park

41        Grove Park

42        Half Moon Lake

43        Knocknagoney Park

44        Lagan Meadows

45        Musgrave Park

46        Ormeau Park

47        Roselawn Cemetery

48        Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park

49        Tullycarnet Park

50        Waterworks Park

51        Woodvale Park

            Department of Finance and Personnel

52        Stormont Estate (Heritage)

            Derry City and Strabane District Council

53        Brooke Park (Heritage)

            Fermanagh and Omagh District Council

54        Broadmeadow

55        Grange Park

            Lisburn & Castlereagh City Council

56        Bells Lane Allotments Incorporating Bells Lane Park & Lisburn BMX track

57        Billy Neil MBE Country Park

58        Castle Gardens

59        Moat Park

60        Moria Demense

61        Wallace Park

            Mid and East Antrim Borough Council

62        Carnfunnock Country Park

63        Greenland Cemetery

64        Ecos Nature Park

65        Eden Allotment Gardens

            Mid Ulster District Council

66        Dungannon Park

67        Hill of The O’Neill

68        Maghera Walled Garden

            Newry, Mourne and Down District Council

69        Kilbroney Park

70        Newry Canal

71        Slieve Gullion Forest Park

72        Warrenpoint Municipal Park (Heritage)

            Queen’s University Belfast

73        Queen’s University Belfast (Heritage)

            Rathfern Community Regeneration Group

74        Rathfern Activity Centre (Community)

            Sentry Hill Community Garden Group

75        Sentry Hill Community Garden (Community)


76        Toome Linear Park (Community)

            Ballyeaston Village Committee

77        Ballyeaston Church Ruin (Community)

            Cullybackey Community Partnership

78        Shellinghill Park and Millennium Path


*Please note management organisation or community group name in bold.