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It was announced today that The Royal Parks has received a grant of nearly £1.5 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and the Big Lottery Fund (BIG) for the Isabella Plantation Access Project.

The grant will enable the delivery of a range of improvements to this internationally renowned 17.5 hectare woodland garden situated in the heart of Richmond Park. The Plantation is known for its collections of azaleas and rhododendrons and visited by more than 300,000 people each year.

Thanks to the successful application for a grant, works can now begin on the creation of a network of accessible paths, a fully accessible new toilet block and shelter, and resurfacing of the disabled car park. The scheme will include sustainable and off grid solutions to heating, lighting and power with locally produced wood used for heating and a non mains reliant irrigation system harvesting water from the park's natural supply.

Funding will allow The Royal Parks to continue work with local community groups and partners to develop an exciting range of activities and resources aimed at existing and new visitors. There will be an impressive range of educational and volunteer activities on offer too, such as wildlife identification sessions and guided tours.

Plans to employ two dedicated 18 month horticultural apprentice placements can also now be realised, offering an ideal opportunity for school leavers to try horticulture and the possibility of stepping into the more advanced Royal Parks Apprentice scheme once their training is complete.

The £1.8 million project will also enhance the ecology of the Plantation. A generous grant of £120,000 from SITA Trust was also announced today, which will fund the ponds and stream component of the project. This includes the removal of silt from all three Plantation ponds, enlarging Peg's Pond to create areas of reed bed - a priority habitat for London - and work on Isabella's four streams will include bank alteration, pooling and extensive new areas of planting.

By creating more varied conditions and a more diverse plant community, we will improve the habitat for resident species, such as aquatic invertebrates, common frog, common toad, smooth newt and bats, as well as encouraging other species to the site. This will help contribute to the delivery of local, regional and national Biodiversity Action Plan targets.

Linda Lennon CBE, Chief Executive of The Royal Parks, said:

"This is fantastic news for the long term sustainability of the Isabella Plantation and the hundreds of thousands of people who come to enjoy its beauty.

"Thanks to the hard work of many people within The Royal Parks, our partners and the grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Big Lottery Fund and SITA Trust, we will now be able to improve not only the Plantation's ecology, but also make it accessible to those who have found it difficult to visit in the past."

Wesley Kerr, London Chair for the Heritage Lottery Fund, said:

"The Isabella Plantation is an unusually beautiful place in an unusually beautiful space. Richmond Park is the biggest in London and has given pleasure and recreation to millions over the centuries. We are delighted that this award will increase biodiversity, add to the exquisite collections of rare plants and make this magical place accessible for everyone. Richmond Park can now join in with the biggest programme of park restorations since Victorian times, which has seen no less than eight major re-openings in London this year."

The Isabella Plantation can be traced back to the 17th century when this area in the south west corner of Richmond Park was known as The Sleyt. This is the name usually used for boggy ground or an open space between woods or banks.

By 1771, it is shown on maps as Isabella Slade and in 1831, Lord Sidmouth, the park deputy ranger, fenced off 17ha (42 acres) of the Isabella Slade. He planted oak, beech and sweet chestnut trees as a crop for timber and gave the area the name it has today.

The present garden of clearings, ponds and streams was established from the 1950s onwards. It is largely the work of George Thomson, the Park Superintendent from 1951-1971. Along with his Head Gardener, Wally Miller, he removed Rhododendron ponticum from large areas and replaced it with other rhododendron species. They established evergreen Kurume Azaleas around the Still Pond and planted other exotic shrub and tree species. The main stream through the garden from Broomfield Gate was dug in 1960 and the Plantation was enlarged to include Peg's Pond. More recently, in 1989, a wild stream was dug in the northern section and this has now been colonized by ferns, water plantains and brook lime. The Bog Garden was reconstructed in 2000.

The garden now has 15 known varieties of deciduous azalea and houses the national collection of 50 Kurume Azaleas, introduced to the west around 1920 by the plant collector, Ernest Wilson. There are also 50 different species of rhododendron and 120 hybrids.

ENDS

Notes to editors

About Richmond Park and The Royal Parks

Every year millions of Londoners and tourists visit Richmond Park, the largest of the capital's eight Royal Parks and the biggest enclosed space in London. The Park is a National Nature Reserve, London's largest Site of Special Scientific Interest and a European Special Area of Conservation. It is home to the beautiful Isabella Plantation, Pembroke Lodge and herds of Red and Fallow deer.

This summer Richmond Park will play a role in the London 2012 Games with the Olympic road race cycling route passing through the Park.

The Royal Parks are: Bushy Park, The Green Park, Greenwich Park, Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, The Regent's Park and Primrose Hill, Richmond Park and St James's Park. The Royal Parks also manages Victoria Tower Gardens, Brompton Cemetery, Grosvenor Square Gardens and the gardens of 10, 11 and 12 Downing Street.

For further information please visit: www.royalparks.org.uk.

For media enquiries contact: 0300 061 2128 or press@royalparks.gsi.gov.uk.

About the Heritage Lottery Fund

Today's second-round pass awards are from the Parks for People programme which has a two-stage or two-round application process. The full grant has now been awarded following a successful second-round application from these parks.

The Parks for People programme uses Lottery funds to support the regeneration, conservation and increased enjoyment of public parks. The programme aims to improve the local environment and put parks firmly back at the heart of community life. In England the two Lottery Funds have been working in partnership from 2006 to deliver a multi-million pound investment in public parks of £150m. Over the period 2006-9, the Big Lottery Fund (BIG) invested up to £80m (in England only) with £70m coming from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for the UK.

HLF is continuing to fund public park projects in 2011/12 with an investment of £20m each year. The next closing date for applications is 31 August 2012. See www.hlf.org.uk for details. The Big Lottery Fund (BIG) remains committed to working in partnership with the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) in making a success of the Parks for People programme and will allocate £5million in 2011/12 and another £5m in 2012/13.

Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF)

Using money raised through the National Lottery, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) sustains and transforms a wide range of heritage for present and future generations to take part in, learn from and enjoy. From museums, parks and historic places to archaeology, natural environment and cultural traditions, we invest in every part of our diverse heritage. HLF has supported over 30,000 projects, allocating £4.6billion across the UK.

Since 1994, HLF has awarded a total of £530m to over 550 public parks across the UK.

Big Lottery Fund (BIG)

The Big Lottery Fund (BIG) rolls out close to £2million in Lottery good cause money every 24 hours, which together with other Lottery distributors means that across the UK most people are within a few miles of a Lottery-funded project. BIG, the largest of the National Lottery good cause distributors, has been rolling out grants to health, education, environment and charitable causes across the UK since its inception in June 2004. The Big Lottery Fund and its predecessor bodies have invested more than £1.3billion in environmental initiatives. Website: www.biglotteryfund.org.uk

SITA Trust

SITA Trust is an independent funding body set up in 1997 to provide funding through the Landfill Communities Fund. To date SITA Trust has supported more than 3000 projects to a combined value of over £89 million. SITA Trust receives its funding through HM Government's Landfill Communities Fund (LCF) which was set up following the introduction of Landfill tax which encourages more sustainable ways of managing waste. This scheme allows landfill operators to voluntarily donate 5.6% of their landfill tax liability to environmental improvement projects. Through the LCF over £1.15 billion has been invested to improve the UK's natural and built environment. SITA Trust receives tax credits donated by SITA UK, one of the nation's largest recycling and resource management companies.

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