AN estimated 1.2 million visits are made to the civic parks in Winchester, a meeting heard.

The city council surveyed its parks and open spaces, to find out who is using them, how they they are being used and why.

The results will help the council come up with ideas to improve the parks.

The survey, the first of its kind, covered 33 open spaces from December 2017 and December 2018, with surveyors visiting at all seasons, at different times of day and days of the week.

Face to face interviews were conducted at eight sites: Abbey Gardens, Orams Arbour, Romsey Road avenue of trees, St Giles Hill, The weirs, King George V, Stanmore Rec and Dean Park.

Some 24,531 people were seen during the visits which extrapolated is 1.2 million visits a year, said Susan Croker, head of landscape and open spaces at the council.

The top activity in 16 sites was using the play area (65 per cent at Abbotts Walk); walking was the main one in 14 (62 per cent in Halls Farm Close) with walking the dog in two (40 per cent in Bath Place).

Autumn is the busiest season, with 85 per cent of visits at the weekend, and in the afternoon.

Nearly 90 per cent of people rated the parks as good or excellent, with most easy to get to, or around, except St Giles Hill and Whiteshute Ridge.

The council's annual play refurbishment programme is valued and the council believes its open spaces are meeting people's needs.

The report to the town forum said parks could be improved: by encouraging more older people, better biodiversity, a raised profile and better management of litter and dog mess.

The survey did not include Winnall Moors and the water meadows as these are run by Hampshire Wildlife Trust and Winchester College.

Cllr Fiona Mather said the college had limited public access to its land because of dog mess, with restrictions at Gaters Field and the nature reserve.

The forum heard that the survey cost £15,000 and was done in-house. Cllr Martin Tod said he used to organise surveys when he worked for Vodafone and £15,000 was very good value for money.

He proposed a formal recognition in the minutes of the work of the parks team.