Heritage at Risk

London's Landscapes at Risk

Rebecca Barrett, Heritage at Risk (London), Historic England

At the end of October, Historic England published the 2016 Heritage at Risk Register. The Register provides a snapshot of the overall health of England's historic environment — it includes listed buildings, scheduled monuments, conservation areas and registered parks and gardens known to be at risk from neglect, decay or inappropriate development. The aim is to keep attention focused on the most vulnerable parts of our historic environment.

Nationally there are 95 registered parks and gardens on the 2016 Heritage at Risk Register; 5.8% of England's designated landscapes. In London 10 of the capital's 151 landscapes are ‘at risk’. Of these, three are cemeteries and seven are public parks.

Our risk assessment for parks and gardens takes into account both condition and vulnerability. Typically landscapes at risk are affected by development and under investment over a number of years. Their original function has often changed and divided ownership leads to the loss of their cohesive historic design.

Wimbledon Park in Merton is a new addition to the London Heritage at Risk Register this year. The park is a remnant of the eighteenth-century landscape that Capability Brown laid out for Earl Spencer of Wimbledon House. Today the majority of the landscape is managed by the local authority as a municipal park, with an emphasis on sports provision. The lake, a survivor from the eighteenth-century landscape, is in poor condition and designed views are increasingly obscured. Multiple ownerships further complicate the management of the park.

There's a similar story across London's landscapes at risk - divided ownerships and associated difficulties with boundary treatments and views into and out of separate land parcels; and limited coverage or implementation of robust conservation plans are just two of the challenges we face. In addition, the solutions for our landscapes are very often intertwined with the future conservation and use of built structures. This is most evident in our cemetery landscapes, where remarkable collections of funerary buildings and monuments are integral to our understanding and enjoyment of these spaces.

Despite these challenges, we're pleased to have made significant progress on some of our longest-standing landscapes at risk in London. At Crystal Palace Park, for example, a grant from Historic England has helped to conserve the six sphinxes, once gatekeepers to Paxton's 'Crystal Palace'. The Local Authority has also commissioned a strategic regeneration plan for the park to realise the vision of the 2011 masterplan and to develop a viable governance and management model. We are pleased to be a part of these discussions.

At Abney Park Cemetery in Hackney, we have supported the commissioning of a conservation plan to guide future management of the cemetery landscape. The plan will tease out what is important about the landscape and why, what needs to be done and how to go about it. It will be critical to the management of veteran trees, some of which are attributable to Loddiges Nursery, as well as the day-to-day clearance of brambles and ivy to better reveal Hosking's original design intentions.

Our work on landscapes at risk is also informed by research at a strategic level. In light of dwindling local authority resources, for example, Historic England has published a new report on the history of funding models for public parks and their management. This report has been included as part of our submission to the House of Commons Communities and Local Government Select Committee inquiry into the future of public parks.

In our bustling city, parks and gardens are valuable oases; places to relax and enjoy. The Heritage at Risk team in London will continue to work closely with owners, local authorities, friends groups and others to champion and protect landscapes at risk. And we'd value your help too — you can share your images, insights and secrets about London's registered parks and gardens by enriching the National Heritage List for England — https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/enrich-the-list/.

Landscapes at Risk in London

with links to London Gardens Online

One of the sphinxes at Crystal Palace

Abney Park Cemetery
Abney Park Cemetery

Trent Park
Trent Park

Kensal Green Cemetery
Kensal Green Cemetery