Our City of Nature

A view of Birmingham’s canals and buildings from the water

The people who are making spaces for nature in Birmingham

I am the Community Facilitator for the Future Parks Accelerator Project and I set out last Saturday morning with my bag packed full of the weighty plans, policies and processes that Birmingham City Council and its partners are working on now and for the next 25 years. My aim was to facilitate a community session at the Birmingham Open Spaces Forum Conference being held at the University of Birmingham’s Exchange Building, https://conferences.bham.ac.uk/venues/the-exchange/?cn-reloaded=1 I was looking forward to the chance to talk about Nature Recovery Network plans and the benefits of Biodiversity NetGain, oh yes! Now, those topics may excite you or turn you off, people’s interests differ massively, even people who have come to the same conference and chosen the same session to join, that is what makes life so interesting and joyful. But I was hoping what I had to say would excite people and encourage them to get more involved.

Arriving in Centenary square in the sunshine, it was strangely quite no trams or busses in sight and not many people around. The emptiness made the noise of the wheels of my wheelie bag echo loudly bouncing of the Birmingham Library and making the few people who were around turn in my direction to see what was rattling through and disturbing the peace. I made it across to the Exchange and was greeted by two people with smiling facing who were “there to look after me”, how lovely. Out of the lift I was greeted by the BOSF team, commenting on my leafy blouse and getting me a cup of tea, I really did feel welcomed and as the people on the table I selected to sit at greeted me with more smiles it just became an even more wonderful day to be back with everyone again – it seemed to have been such a long time since the last in person conference.

We were treated to a morning of informative presentations provided by keynotes speakers which included battling fly tipping and new initiatives to help people recycle larger items, helping geography and earth science students experience real life environmental issues. (I was lucky when I studied for my earth science degree, I was already working in BCC Parks growing bedding plants in the two main Council owned nurseries in Birmingham, happy days). We were treated to a round of “Just a Minute” sessions where people provided updates about their parks and groups, shared successes and problems and received applause for their ability to sum up the situation in just 60 seconds! And encouraged to use a seed corn fund to “grow” more money for community projects in parks.

Then too soon it was time for lunch, mine was egg mayo sandwiches and Dutch apple cake followed by fresh fruit salad, really tasty. Great conversations about so many different subjects filled the room with noisy chatter and laughter and then it was time for walks and talks to start. My group manoeuvred their chairs into a large circle, and for a moment we were quiet in the sunshine as they waited for me to start. I handed each participant a copy of the City of Nature – a 25-year plan laid out in a book which includes colourful pictures of Brum and its green spaces, people and wildlife and sprinkled with “Earth Stories” each one explaining how the storyteller was connected to nature, what it meant to them, why it was important and, in some cases, vital to their good health: https://naturallybirmingham.org/birmingham-city-of-nature-delivery-framework/

As I took my seat and looked around the group, I realised that here in front of me was the City of Nature and each person had a part of the plan and a part of the story. Someone commented that there was no “top” position in the circle, and the Forest School leader in me suddenly felt that something very special could happen here. I invited the group, with their permission, to share their stories with each other and so they unfolded. Tales of tiny but magical woods taken back into the city’s care, how growing together, tackling the litter and gardening was bringing people together, communities working to turn “abandoned” areas into family friendly spaces. Finding special places full of dragonflies, kingfishers and newts sadly making their homes between the rubbish, fishing line and other discarded things but getting on with it anyway and then rallying people to help clean it up and give nature a helping hand. Battling for a grass verge against illegal parking or taking on the work of a caring for a large and wonderful woodland. Using creativity to open up nature to more people, through art and performance, leading walks in urban spaces but noticing nature everywhere. Opening up access for school children to a green space where nature was on their doorstep but never visited. Planting thousands of trees with thousands of people and taking on the challenge to help teach others how to care for them. Sharing the pure sensory joy that the sights and smells a warm greenhouse provides, loving the freedom to coddiwomple (purposefully wander) or stop and try Shinrin-Yoku, bathing in the peace and energy a forest provides and teaching other people skills that may otherwise be lost. Keeping going no matter what, dealing vandals who don’t care and deer who only see nature as their harvest not ours and finally the importance of caring for tools others will use to care for nature, sharpening the shears and cleaning the spades – to the surprise of many. The circle was closed, and the stories were told, and we had been on a journey across the city and through time. How marvellous. Here was the City of Nature, here were the people who were making space for nature in Birmingham. Contacts made, numbers swapped, re energised and inspired the circle dissolved and we returned to our starting place.

There is so much good happening in so many places, but there is still so much to do. So not the end but the beginning. I still have all the plans and policies and processes, and I am sharing some of them here: https://naturallybirmingham.org/nature-recovery-for-birmingham/ for those of you that like those things. But you can also get even more involved and find out more by joining me and other Green Champions for our Nature Natters Sessions online (mostly) but sometimes out with nature, wherever we can find it. You can use the contact us form below to sign up to receive more information and updates about Nature Recovery in Birmingham. Please do join us I am looking forward to hearing many more of your Earth Stories and sharing with you the plans for making the whole of Birmingham a City of Nature.

Thank you to the BOSF team for a lovely day, well done.

Debbie Needle – Community Facilitator
Urban Nature Development Programme

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