THE?five country parks run by Hampshire County Council are officially among the best in the world – after being awarded green flags.

And flying the flag for East Hampshire is the Queen Elizabeth Country Park, south of Petersfield.

The international award, now into its third decade, is a sign to the public that Lepe, Manor Farm, Queen Elizabeth, Royal Victoria and Staunton country parks boast the highest possible environmental standards, are beautifully maintained, and have excellent visitor facilities.

Andrew Gibson, the county council’s executive member for culture, recreation and countryside, said: ‘We’re delighted that our popular country parks have once again been recognised as world-class open spaces for residents to enjoy.

Green Flag awards are hard earned and are only given to the best green spaces across the globe. Our staff, volunteers and partners are rightly proud of this excellent their achievement.”

Over the next four years, the county council will be improving a range of country park facilities in Hampshire. The work includes providing new and improved visitor centres, cafés, play equipment, trails and parking, as well as enhancing the unique habitats, heritage and breathtaking scenery found at the five country parks.

Mr Gibson added: “For over 40 years, these parks have welcomed visitors, encouraging them to explore and enjoy the natural environment. That’s why it’s important for us to continue to strive for excellence, by investing in our country parks, which will improve visitor facilities and make more of their natural and historical features.”

* Facilities at Lepe Country Park in the New Forest are being improved thanks to £2.7m investment from the county council for a new visitor centre and café offering views of the Solent and Isle of Wight, sensory garden, play equipment, landscape works, improved play and better car parking;

* Manor Farm and River Hamble Country Park, near Bursledon, can be enjoyed by all – whether walking, cycling or horse riding in the woods or on the banks of the River Hamble. Children can enjoy meeting the animals in the historic farm;

* Queen Elizabeth Country Park, near Petersfield, is Hampshire’s biggest country park with more than 200 acres of woodland and downland. The park’s visitor centre will be transformed as part of a planned £3m programme of improvements, including a bigger café, more welcoming entrance, outdoor sheltered area and space for tourism-based businesses;

* Royal Victoria Country Park sits on the shores of the Solent, near Netley. A £3.2m project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the county council is currently underway, to conserve its historic Chapel - the only remaining part of what was once the world’s largest military hospital when it was built in 1863; and

* Staunton Country Park, near Havant, will have its 200-year-old Regency landscapes restored, and a new visitor centre installed as part of a £3.8m project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Big Lottery Fund and the county council.