Devon County Council's two country parks have been presented with prestigious Green Flag Awards.
Stover Country Park and the Grand Western Canal Country Park are among more than 2,000 sites across the country to collect the award this year.
Both Stover and the Grand Western Canal remained open throughout the pandemic lockdown and they have seen an increase in visitors over the last few months, as people have taken advantage of the health and wellbeing benefits of the great outdoors.
Stover Country Park saw a 50% increase in visitor numbers in July, August and September. At the Grand Western Canal Country Park, Rangers reported higher levels of use of the towpath by walkers and cyclists, and permits for canoeists, kayakers and stand-up paddleboarders have quadrupled this year.
The Green Flag Award scheme, managed by environmental charity Keep Britain Tidy under licence from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, recognises and rewards well-managed parks and green spaces, setting the benchmark standard for their management across the United Kingdom and around the world.
Councillor Roger Croad, Devon County Council Cabinet Member with responsibility for Environment, said: "We're extremely proud that both of our country parks have retained the Green Flag Award for another year, and this year in particular has highlighted how important our green spaces are to local people. These awards are recognition of the highest possible environmental standards and visitor facilities offered at Stover Country Park and the Grand Western Canal Country Park. Our thanks and congratulations go to all of the staff and volunteers who have helped play their part in achieving Green Flag status yet again."
Stover Country Park has now attained a Green Flag Award for the past 17 years.
Councillor George Gribble, Devon County Councillor for Bovey Tracey Rural, said: "We are delighted to have this award again this year. The large increase in visitor numbers just goes to show and highlights the appreciation of everyone using the Stover Country Park and Grand Western Canal Country Park."
This year marks the 12th consecutive year that the Grand Western Canal Country Park has received the honour from the Green Flag Awards.
Councillor Colin Slade, local County Councillor for Tiverton east, said: "I am delighted that the Grand Western Canal has been awarded a Green Flag once again. It really is a fantastic facility and destination for both local residents and visitors to Mid Devon. It is great for walkers, runners, cyclists and anglers, all of whom are very welcome. My congratulations and thanks to canal manager Mark Baker and all his staff and volunteers."
Councillor Ray Radford, Mid Devon District Councillor for Halberton and local County Councillor for Willand and Uffculme, said: "This is great news for our Grand Western Canal to be rewarded with a Green Flag Award yet again. The canal is a great asset for Mid Devon and the local community; it draws in visitors from far and wide, they bring revenue, not only for the canal, but local businesses as well. Therefore our thanks must go to Mark Baker and all his staff for the effort they have put in to achieve this accolade once again. It is a wonderful asset for all who use it."
Keep Britain Tidy Chief Executive Allison Ogden-Newton OBE said: "This year, more than ever, our parks and green spaces have been a lifeline and we know that millions of people have used them to relax, meet friends, exercise or simply escape for a short time. It is testament to the incredible dedication and hard work of parks staff and volunteers that Stover Country Park and the Grand Western Canal Country Park have achieved the highest international standards demanded by the Green Flag Award."