Grave stones and memorials rising out of short grass in the foreground. In the background, cut stone block rises (edge of former quarry) and the eaves of a building above are just visible.
St James’s Gardens (formerly St James’s Cemetery) was one of the earliest garden cemeteries in England, designed and laid out in a disused quarry high above the burgeoning city of Liverpool. © Historic England Archive DP234908
St James’s Gardens (formerly St James’s Cemetery) was one of the earliest garden cemeteries in England, designed and laid out in a disused quarry high above the burgeoning city of Liverpool. © Historic England Archive DP234908

Registered Parks and Gardens at Risk

Nearly 1,700 parks and gardens in England are designated as being of national importance. These are included in the 'Register of Historic Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest in England'.

These designed landscapes cover many types and are the result of centuries of work by both private individuals and public bodies. They make a special contribution to the historic environment of our countryside and towns.

Without proper care and investment these fragile landscapes can easily be damaged beyond repair or lost forever. We want to help their owners to find practical and affordable ways of safeguarding their future.

There are many issues and challenges facing historic parks and gardens. Their historic character and fabric can be easily harmed by:

  • New construction – for example buildings, building extensions, roads and transport infrastructure, quarrying and mineral workings
  • Changes in the setting or views
  • Changes in farming and woodland management
  • Changes to the treescape, hedges, fences and boundaries
  • Changes to the water table, and pollution
  • Neglect or abandonment leading to overgrown trees, shrubs and scrub,  lost features and views, silted-up lakes
  • Inappropriate wildlife habitat schemes
  • Poor maintenance of garden buildings and structures, walls, paths and steps
  • Poorly designed visitor developments
  • Unsustainable growth in visitor numbers and events, and temporary structures - marquees, temporary tracks and additional access points, visitor facilities
  • New garden or landscape design interventions
  • Intrusive lighting, smells and noise
  • Divided and fragmented ownership placing differing demands on parts of the landscape

Under the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), registered historic parks and gardens are considered heritage assets like listed buildings or scheduled monuments. Development is not generally acceptable if it will cause substantial harm to or loss of these nationally important sites.

The current situation

There are 103 registered parks and gardens on the Heritage at Risk (HAR) Register, representing 6.2% of the total number of registered parks and gardens in England. The HAR Register includes all grades (Grade I, Grade II* and Grade II) of registered historic parks and gardens.

There are also individual park and garden features on the HAR Register. These include listed buildings such as garden walls, lodges, follies and temples.

St James’s Gardens (formerly St James’s Cemetery) was developed by a private company and opened in 1829 making it one of the earliest examples of a garden cemetery in England. Architectural features were designed by John Foster and landscaping was by John Shepherd. Numerous monuments within the cemetery have been laid down, damaged or are eroding. Some memorials are in poor condition. The centrepiece of the designed landscape is the carriage ramps and catacombs occupying the eastern boundary. These are in poor condition with structural issues resulting from invasive vegetation and erosion of masonry.

The challenge ahead

We recognise that registered parks and gardens are complex sites, often presenting unique challenges.

These complex landscapes often require significant monetary investment. They also need commitment from their owners to achieve the positive management necessary, so that they can be removed from the Heritage at Risk Register.

They can occupy large areas, they are frequently associated with other heritage assets at risk, and they may be in multiple ownership. This can make a holistic approach to their conservation difficult to take forward.

To tackle this, Historic England's landscape architects promote initiatives that will help to remove parks and gardens from the Heritage at Risk Register.

Our own grant funding, as well as that from other funding bodies such as the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Natural England (through the Countryside Stewardship scheme), delivers repair solutions for designed landscapes.

Pressure on public finances presents a challenge for many of our most celebrated public parks and cemeteries. Climate change is also providing an increasing challenge through patterns of extreme weather including flooding. The spread of new pests and diseases poses risks too. Demand for land for development calls for creative design solutions that do not damage the significance of historic parks and gardens.

It is only by thoroughly understanding the challenges facing individual parks and gardens that we can work out effective solutions. We then play a key role in bringing about close and effective co-operation between owners, land managers and funding partners to make a real difference to historic landscapes at risk:

  • Analysing the problems facing a landscape
  • Helping to identify the opportunities
  • Advising on conservation management planning
  • Helping to work out where alterations, modifications and interventions can be made
  • Investigating the feasibility of alternative future uses
  • Helping to broker solutions
  • Providing information on funding such as National Lottery Heritage Fund and Countryside Stewardship

Our pages on Looking after Parks, Gardens and Landscapes offer technical guidance for people caring for and managing these sites.

Was this page helpful?