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The Royal Parks embarks on restoration to save Greenwich Park’s lost 17th century landscape

The Royal Parks charity is embarking on a restoration of Greenwich Park’s disappearing 17th century landscape and damaged tree avenues, before the features are lost forever.

In carefully-managed phases, over three years, the charity will redefine the World Heritage Site’s eroded landscape and will simultaneously restore the declining tree avenues, with new, more resilient trees. The project will return the landscape to its original splendour, thanks to funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and Community Fund.

Works will begin in October 2022 and will be completed by March 2025.

The formal landscape was commissioned by Charles II in the 17th century. It  comprises formal tree-lined avenues which frame the view from the Queen’s House, culminating in ‘The Grand Ascent,’ (giant grass steps on the hill to the Royal Observatory). It links the Thames to Blackheath Gate and beyond.

The formal terraced layout (called a parterre) was designed by French landscape architect André Le Nôtre, who is best known for designing the world-famous Versailles gardens, outside Paris.

But today, the landscape is severely eroded. Centuries of footfall and five million annual visitors have taken their toll. The ‘giant grass steps’ are barely discernible, and the ‘parterre’ banked terracing has slumped.

The tree avenues, which were planted with poor-quality Turkey oak trees in the 1970s, are severely squirrel damaged. They often host pests such as Oak Processionary Moth and Knopper Gall (which interferes with the reproduction of our native oak tree). Many Turkey oak trees have already died, leaving incomplete avenues.

The restoration will expertly remove the declining Turkey oak trees and a small number of badly damaged beech trees, 87 trees in total.

The wood will be retained in the park to support wildlife, and all mature trees planted before 1970, will remain.

The charity will plant 92 new, more resilient, semi-mature trees - with a net gain of five avenue trees - providing long-term wildlife benefit. Flowering, nectar-rich lime and elm trees will support pollinators, including the endangered white letter hairstreak butterfly.

The avenues will provide a foraging habitat and movement corridors for birds, bats and other wildlife, for years. The landscape restoration will expand valuable acid grassland habitats, supporting birds and pollinators, such as ground nesting bees and wasps.

During the project, around 2,000 native, diverse and wildlife-friendly trees and shrubs will be planted across the wider park and woodland, boosting carbon dioxide absorption.

See here for full press release from The Royal Parks.