Honour for the man who stopped Stoke Park being turned into ‘huge housing estate’

A GREEN spaces champion who led the battle to save Stoke Park from being bulldozed by developers has been honoured.

Dr Stewart Harding has been made a Member of the Order of the British Empire in this year’s King’s Birthday Honours list, for “services to Heritage and Park Conservation”.

Stewart was a mature student at the then Bristol Polytechnic St Mattias campus in 1985 when he began his “long arduous battle” to save Stoke Park from development.

During research for a dissertation on the area’s history, ecology and geography he learned of plans to turn part of the land into a school playing field, launching the Purdown Landscape Protection Group to fight them.

As the fight continued he then discovered that the NHS authorities which owned the land were under pressure from the then government to sell it off for “maximum capital gain”, with the site under threat of being developed for housing.

He continued his “action-research approach” as a PhD student, combining campaigning with a thesis on conservation issues in the disposal of National Health Service land.

Stewart and fellow campaigners set up the Stoke Park Restoration Trust in 1988, campaigning, researching and fundraising to produce a masterplan, carrying out renovation work and eventually securing the future of a 270-acre part of the historic estate as a park, which is now owned and by Bristol City Council and enjoyed by thousands of city residents every year.

Stewart left Bristol in 1996 to run the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Urban Parks Programme and has also worked for the Countryside Commission on the restoration of historic parks and gardens.

Since 2003 he has worked for The Parks Agency, a not-for-profit company he set up with fellow Stoke Park campaigner and garden historian, David Lambert.

Stewart said: “The award was a complete surprise.

“Of course, it is a great honour to receive national recognition for all the work I have put in, as a campaigner and volunteer, and in a professional capacity.”

Naturalist Steve England, who runs outdoor learning courses for Bristol schools, community and youth groups and grew up exploring the fields and woodlands of Stoke Park, said: “If it wasn’t for Stewart Harding and the Stoke Park Restoration Trust’s incredible work saving Stoke Park, we wouldn’t have it now – what an honour and amazing recognition.”

David Allen, who nominated Stewart for the MBE, said: “Without his dogged determination, commitment and skills, what we now see and enjoy would have been a huge housing estate covering acres of park land on the north-west side of the M32 into Bristol.”