In 1997, when the first Green Flags were awarded, the green space sector in the United Kingdom was in a parlous state. Decades of underfunding had left many once proud and beautiful historic city centre parks derelict, dangerous, no-go areas, and many other green spaces were neglected or barely maintained. Experts with a shared interest in promoting natural spaces from a range of backgrounds came together in response to this decline. The Scheme was directed by a Steering Group made up of individuals and representatives of larger organisations, led by Mark Davis of the Pesticides Action Network UK, who worked closely with the following individuals to develop and drive the Scheme forward in these early years: Nick Reeves - ILAM (The Institute of Leisure and Amenity Management) and then of CIWEM (The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management); Ken McAnespie - KMC Consultancy; George Barker - English Nature; Allan Tyler - independent consultant; and Liz Greenhalgh - independent consultant.
Their intention was to establish agreed standards of good management, to help to justify and evaluate funding, and to bring people back into the parks. And it worked. As the Standard became established, other green spaces began to apply for the Award, and now Green Flags fly over parks, cemeteries and crematoria, recreation grounds, canals, reservoirs, educational campuses, hospital grounds, housing estates, nature reserves and allotments. There is no limit on the size of the site; they currently range from less than one hectare to thousands of hectares.
In 2008 the Scheme started to expand as pilot studies into countries outside the UK.