Case study

Protecting and promoting our urban parks and heritage

At a time where our public parks and urban trees are under threat, research from the University of Derby is playing a pivotal role in efforts to safeguard, restore and manage these invaluable features of our cities and towns for the benefit and wellbeing of future generations. 


Research by Professor Paul Elliott is pivotal in driving a greater public understanding of nature in our towns and cities and promoting pro-environmental behaviours through imaginative community projects across the East Midlands.

Drawing on Elliott’s expertise for its report, the National Review of Research Priorities for Urban Parks, Designed Landscapes and Open Spaces, English Heritage have made significant recommendations for the management of our urban environment, focusing on the preservation, restoration and management of public parks.

Professor Elliott’s research is rooted in a profound conviction that studies of the history of arboriculture and green spaces can underpin planning for environmental sustainability and mobilise local organisations and community volunteers to support the conservation agenda.

Research findings

Through blogs and publications, he has argued that the time is now ripe for more ambitious and historically informed re-forestation and re-wilding schemes, such as an expansion of the National Forest boundaries to embrace more urban areas. He champions the social, cultural and economic advantages of large-scale planting schemes, from job creation to increased biodiversity, flood prevention to community cohesion. 

Professor Elliott’s studies have also underpinned community history initiatives which attracted funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (ARHC). They have involved far-reaching working relationships with local authorities, arts organisations and the voluntary sector to engage wider audiences in celebrating the history of green spaces.

Additional projects

The Nottingham Green Spaces Community History project, which he co-produced with researchers from the University of Nottingham, charted the social history of the city’s most important parks. Its highpoint was a specially commissioned play, Breathing Spaces, performed by Excavate theatre group in local parks during Love Parks Week.

To coincide with the First World War centenary, Professor Elliot also led a Derby Parks in Wartime collaborative project which chronicled how parks were employed in the war effort – from hosting recruitment drives for the armed forces to serving as places of memorialisation. More recently, Professor Elliott’s work has also been included in an app trail around Derby Arboretum, designed to bring this research to younger and family audiences.

Hidden Histories of the First World War wall hanging
A wall hanging created as part of the Derby Parks in Wartime collaborative project



Hidden Histories of the First World War work

Identity, Culture and Representation Research Cluster

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