FPA Naturally Birmingham – A Vision for a City of Nature


The FPA Naturally Birmingham project team are currently in the process of establishing a 25 Year vision for the City to become a ‘City of Nature’. At its heart, it aims to address the issues Birmingham and much of the UK faces by seizing the opportunities presented to us by Covid-19 and investing in our green and blue spaces, creating a cleaner and healthier city for all to enjoy.

We have now completed our deep dive into the evidence as to why green and blue spaces are so important for our physical and mental health. Our next steps are to synthesise this evidence which will then form the basis for the reasoning as to why Birmingham should become a City of Nature.

Throughout May we have been talking to internal stakeholders on our vision to gather the
views of our colleagues to ensure everyone has a chance to input into the City of Nature
vision. We will continue to move this forward by talking to more internal stakeholders over the next couple of months. The next steps for this vision are that we want to hear from as many as you as possible to take you through our vision and thinking and allow you to input into creating the vision for the citizens of Birmingham. We will be holding a series of webinars throughout June which you can book on using the following link: A City of Nature – 25 year Vision for Birmingham Tickets, Multiple Dates | Eventbrite

These engagement sessions will be crucial in shaping our vision and will outline the next steps of utilising our 591 parks and over 160 miles of canals within Birmingham to make these areas, as well as the whole city, the best places they can be, allowing everyone to enjoy nature together.

After these engagement sessions, the team will be reviewing the common themes which have been derived and ensuring the views are incorporated into the vision. Keep your eyes peeled for more information and to learn more on what we have found!

You can find out more about what is happening in the project by reading our newsletters: Read our Newsletters – Naturally Birmingham Future Parks Project

Part 2 – Initial Engagement

We are catching up with Helen’s work in Dawberry Fields Park developing volunteering.

Spring into Summer

After some time off over Easter, moving my mother-in-law into a home – its back to Dawberry, with plans to try and encourage some consultation. I booked two coffee chats and planned to have 2 litter picking sessions soon after.

The coffee chats needed to be covid safe, so I encouraged people to come with their own coffee and I provided cakes / pre-wrapped. We stood socially distanced, and used sanitizer before taking a cake.

Not knowing if anyone would turn up, I was pleasantly surprised when 10 people came to the first coffee chat on a Tuesday morning and left me with their contact details.

We chatted about the park, the area and people’s aspirations for the park after lockdown.  Interestingly, the second coffee chat, on a Saturday morning, was rather less successful. I tended to stop people who were passing, to chat, rather than have them turn up to chat to me.  I was unsure as to whether this was due to it being a weekend, or whether I had already engaged with anyone interested on the first chat.

Of course, once you do attract people to give an opinion, it can be difficult to meet their expectations. Many of those who attended had lovely ideas for benches, gym equipment, trees, new football ground and posts.  All valid asks. I had to find a way to acknowledge these. Not dismiss them, but lower their expectations as to what might be achieved (within my contract term of 6 months) without defined funding.

These two sessions also allowed me to understand those who itched to be out doing ‘something useful.’ We spoke of litter picking, dog muck, fly tipping, wild meadows, clearing streams and brambles – and here I could be a lot more enthusiastic and encouraging.

With the email contact details from the coffee chats, I sent out links to my questionnaire about Dawberry Fields and volunteering.  Interestingly most people lived nearby, were women and white – as previous FPA data has reported.  Yet I know this isn’t completely representative of the people I met.

These early questionnaire responses revealed that people wanted to get involved in looking after the park, not just doing things in the park.  So, it made sense to start with an easy win – my litter picking idea: easy to facilitate, satisfying to see what is collected and team building.  Also helpful to the parks and residents. 

We made the first litter pick a litter survey, to encourage the children involved to consider what was the worst ‘offender’ rubbish wise and have a discussion about it.  In case you are interested: plastic bottles, cans, cigarette butts and sweet wrappers were the worst offenders!

Two of the people who attended stood out as keen, down to earth and engaged enough to pop off and buy their own litter picking equipment. A fantastic encouragement to me.  Add onto this that they were (and are), lovely ladies who were happy to meet for a chat at either end of the park bench and talk about aspirations for the park, I felt rewarded for my efforts.

The notice boards were attracting attention: spring buds, signs of spring, take litter home, and so further litter picks were advertised. 

We found some strange litter that the police collected promptly, reminding us that our neighbourhood isn’t always as it seems, after dark. Good to know the police are keen to work with us. It was a talking point for a few days, then it calmed down again.

Engaging with the local police at Brandwood was rewarding. They seemed pleased I am in the park, engaging the community to tidy up. It’s all good.

Following a meeting with my friendly park ranger, we came up with some dates for the diary in May, June and July.  I was also encouraged by requests for regular litter picking activities and looked to set the ball rolling.

Two of the ‘group’ wanted to run particular events: GB Spring Clean and Big Toddle for Barnardo’s.  I offered to facilitate/assist.  Hoping this is encouraging them to see how easy it is to get things moving.  I felt motivated too. 

Then a third person became engaged, and she had forest school experience!

Is it time to think about calling ourselves a friend’s group yet? 

You can contact Helen to find out more about volunteering opportunities at: helen@bosf.org.uk


Blog 3 – Planning an event to aid consultation – coming soon.

Volunteer development in Dawberry Fields Park

Helen Harvey – FPA Volunteering Development Coordinator working for Birmingham Open Spaces Forum, gives us an insight into her work at one of the FPA pilot sites – Dawberry Fields Park.

13 weeks into a 26-week contract as a Volunteering Development Coordinator and things are finally, hopefully, starting to warm up a bit – in terms of who and what we can do to get out meeting folks. Sadly, the weather has yet to reciprocate in such a positive manner. I think it’s fair to say that coming into this role I had little idea of how I might be received in a different park by the locals and, I have been reasonably positively surprised. If you turn up regularly, so that people get used to seeing you and say ‘hi’ when passing. Important to wear a smile too. It’s a start. If you wear something that makes you look safe to talk to – i.e. a labelled garment, badge, hi viz, etc., you are no longer considered the ‘random’ in the park! People start to engage. Aside – it’s a bit like when you walk the dog in the park alone: if you see a stranger, to you unknown, walking towards you, certainly as a woman, you start to consider your options – seriously. Fight, flight, bluff it out. But if a man has a dog with him, particularly one that’s cute with a waggly tail, there is nothing to worry about – he can’t possibly be an axe murderer with a black Labrador! Ha ha! Same with the hi viz.
But I digress!

So, over the last few weeks I have looked at different ways of ‘putting myself out there’ to become a known person within Dawberry Fields. Initially, whilst still in lockdown, a site visit was really frowned upon – whilst the work from home if you can suggestion was still the mantra of the government. So ways to comply meant my daily exercise could take me through the park 1 or 2 times a week. Within a couple of weeks I had a couple of posters on the notice boards about the corvids, spring tree buds and asking questions about ‘what do people want for their park?’ just putting it out there! BOOM! I got no response from the questions at all. But – I did get positive comments from the nature posters and was able
to have a few conversations. I got excited about a monthly photography competition from the positivity….. but with no budget yet determined, so no carrot to dangle as a reward; this bombed too – one response. OK. I put that idea to bed for a while.

By the end of Feb, so three weeks in, I’ve a t-shirt and Hi-Viz and people are chatting to me about the park and their daily commutes, exercise, reasons for being in the park. It’s all interesting and helps ne to formulate a cunning plan to draw out more information about the community and what people want. I start ‘building the brand’. I’ve got logos, hi-viz and my posters begin to take shape into a recognisable format – a trusted post. Similarly, I become a presence on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Me! At 55! Who knew I could be so social media savvy!? But…now… how to move to the next step? How do you have a chat and a coffee during covid? And how do you get hold of peoples details and ask the right questions so you can engage further? That took a bit more working through….God bless the notice boards, where I shouted my ideas out to all who would stop by and read – and read they did!

In her next Blog Helen tells us how things have developed even further. Coming soon.

You can contact Helen to find out more about volunteering opportunities at: helen@bosf.org.uk


Witton Lodge Community Association on Healthy Parks

Empowering. Invigorating. Stimulating.Powerful words, powerful emotions. And the fact is, it costs nothing to be empowered, to feel invigorated or stimulated. Just step outside.

Whether it’s time spent smelling flowers in your garden, taking a walk around your local park or just sitting among nature and wildlife, studies prove that green and open spaces is an assured way to feel better.

Research has connected parks that feature water, open spaces with significant biodiversity and broadleaf woods to be good for your health. The aesthetic beauty of nature can improve mental and emotional wellbeing.

This year has continued to be challenging for all of us. The impact of the Coronavirus pandemic has caused stresses and pressures many were not prepared for. Health and wellbeing provision delivered by Witton Lodge Community Association together with Naturally Birmingham (Future Parks Accelerator – FPA) has sought to counter such distresses through a programme of activities:

Online support sessions have focused on the importance and benefits of connecting with nature while supported walks around local parks have helped older and vulnerable adults to escape their lockdown isolation and benefit from a stirring of the senses.

In addition, the Association’s affiliated walking group, the Red Hot Chilli Steppers, has grown to 20 members strong who enjoy weekly strolls around stunning Witton Lakes – a 1.8-kilometre trail which snakes around two gorgeous reservoirs and through the expansive green canvas that is Brookvale Park.

WLCA volunteer Linda Hackett, who founded the Steppers’ nearly 20 years ago, took part in a sensory walk around The Lakes, organised by colleagues from The Active Wellbeing Society to showcase and highlight how people can gain from spending time in the company of nature.

The tour emphasised the functionality of parks in making people feel happy. Open and green communal spaces are social amphitheatres, where people can meet and connect. This type of social contact and interaction builds friendships and networks and creates a real sense of wellbeing.

The secret to using nature as a mood booster is to find activities in a green space that match the outcome you are looking for. For some, going to a quiet park to escape their daily routine will bring peace of mind and a sense of freedom. Others may use their natural landscapes to challenge themselves with activities like running or cycling. Some are intoxicated by simply interacting with animals.

However you use your green spaces, studies have found that time spent outdoors can protect against mood disorders, depression, neurotic behaviour and stress-related issues, underlining the positive psychological and biological impact that parks offer. The effect is also dose-dependent, people who spend more time in their parks and are more frequent visitors to their open green spaces enjoy a greater sense of wellbeing.

This is why the Health and Wellbeing team at Witton Lodge are great advocates of social prescribing. Engaging with your natural landscape, connecting with the open and green spaces in your community, is medicinal.

Don’t underestimate the healing harmonies of nature.

If you’d like to hear more about the Future Parks Accelerator programme please contact Debbie Needle on futureparks@bosf.org.uk or the work of Witton Lodge Community Association please contact Steve Sharma on Steve.Sharma@wittonlodge.org.uk

Teeny Explorers

Teeny Explorers

Teeny explorers, except not so teeny as right from the start of the session each week, every child (and adult) is filled with the hope and belief that one day they will fly! What better message to be giving our young children, and in such an enabling environment, with space as far as the eye can see and the sky knowing no limits?

I grew up in an outdoor loving family in Birmingham with the Lickey Hills providing the backdrop for many happy childhood memories. When a friend told me about Teeny Explorers, I knew it was something I wanted to try with my little boy, I am so glad we did. One sunny Tuesday morning in February, H and I put on our wellington boots and waterproofs and embarked on an adventure that was about to become something that we would look forward to every week. In that morning alone we experienced storytelling, hill rolling, searching for early signs of spring and creating artwork from beautiful resources nature had given us.

Each week we embark on a new adventure, from journeying through the Giants Land, crossing bridges without waking Trolls, searching for dragons, following animal trails and marvelling at mother nature and how she has changed over the weeks/months. Each week we explore the same park, but nature in all its glory always has something new to offer, always inspires a new story, invites a new question, sparks a new adventure, something that cannot always be as easily achieved indoors.

H has learnt that stumps are not just where a tree has been cut down, they are where a tree has provided a new challenge, “see a stump and you have to jump”. We are never allowed to cross a bridge, on foot, unless we have howled like a wolf, “we don’t want to sound like a Billy Goat!” Hills were designed to roll down, a skill that has now been practised in many of Birmingham’s parks and further afield. We very rarely follow a path as H has been filled with confidence through Teeny Explorers to explore off the beaten track, you never know what you are going to discover. Each session fills H with excitement but, when you ask him about his favourite memories of Teeny Explorers he will always talk of the sessions when we use ‘baby dragon sparks’ to make a fire and heat hot chocolate to drink with marshmallows.  

Teeny Explorers quickly became our escape from the busy working week, time to spend together in a special place, “My Lickey Hills” (H’s words) come rain or shine! I will be forever grateful to Teeny Explorers for filling H with confidence, curiosity about the world around him, and the eagerness to explore further than his eyes can see.

Parks need people, people need parks, children need opportunities to experience the magic of our parks.


For me, it was Fuji

When you sit back and take stock

At the human story and mother nature’s clock

We arrived here at half past one

And within a minute it’s nearly done!

To halt the doom

We must make room

In our minds

To be kind

To turn the tide

And prevent the slide

And how do you do this?

Step outside, right into mother nature’s bliss

For me, it was Fuji

Four friends together

Weathering the treacherous weather

Up we climbed! From station one

First a canter, then a competitive run

As it approached the time for dinner

We noticed the air become unnervingly thinner

But this was part of nature’s thrill

Each breath to be enjoyed with expert skill

At the summit

All was still

The crowds waited for the ritual crack

The crack of dawn

That luminescent yolk became apparent

It was the Earth’s single parent

It’s yellow rays

The difference between night and day

Spilled onto the skyline

Allowing me time



Recharge, and recalibrate

And analyse my internal state

Reorder and give weight

To this special moment with my dearest mates

And this is the beauty of all that is green

It gives you a warm, fuzzy and numinous feeling

You don’t need Fuji, it was just an example

To help you transcend these four walls

And as we get to a quarter to two

Hopefully we will realise that the planet is beyond me and you

Earth Story Poem Written by – Dr Jeevan Swamy – GP Registrar

For the Love of Reptiles

Hello there!
My name is Megan, and I work for Birmingham City Council as a member of the ranger team. From as far back as I can remember, nature and wildlife have always been a part of my life. I have been incredibly fortunate to have grown up amongst an array of animals in my family home which of course, fuelled my love of all creatures great and small.
However, there’s one group of animals in particular that have a big place in my heart….REPTILES! My dad’s love of herpetology meant that as a child I shared my home with lots of snakes, lizards and even tortoises! Fast forward to today and very little has changed. I now have my own delightful menagerie of animals, of which the majority are reptiles that I rescued or adopted.

Before joining the ranger team, I would visit schools and hospices -such as Acorns- to educate children and offer sensory sessions with my reptiles. For such fascinating, beautiful creatures, they suffer an awful lot of demonisation from society. I want to change this narrative and open people’s eyes to the wonder world of reptiles.

When it comes to conservation, they may not be at the top of everyone’s list to save over a cute, cuddly polar bear, but they play an invaluable role within their ecosystems and I’d like nothing more than to see them back on the map. Few people are aware that we have our very own handful of reptile species in the UK, and it’s not surprising as to why. As a result of habitat destruction through change in land use, and human disturbance, our native reptiles are a rare sight to see. With little consideration given to their conservation requirements in previous years, their numbers are increasingly declining. Furthermore, human actions are also implicating the individuals we do have hidden away in their fragmented pockets of habitat. Individuals are decreasing in size and thus in females are resulting in smaller clutch sizes. Not what we need for an already suffering population.
Our native reptiles may be few and far between but I’m not giving up hope of reinstating our scaly friends to their former glory. A huge dream of mine is to one day run a conservation project for the Grass snake (Natrix natrix). In my spare time I have been studying previous papers and books written by fellow enthusiasts of this stunning species. Until that time comes, I am incredibly excited to have joined the reptile conservation project taking place at Dawberry Fields to create habitats that will enable slow worms and the common lizard to thrive.

I will be documenting the experience over on my blog (www.Patchtheworld.co.uk)! We have a little hurdle to overcome, which is funding. We are aiming to raise £2,000 for the project to begin, so any donations would be hugely appreciated. If you would like to donate please click the link: https://www.justgiving.com/campaign/dawberryfields

Let’s get OUR reptiles back on the map!

The story of Lohri

Below is a story of Lohri which takes place on 13th of January each year. It’s celebrated in North India called Punjab and people from village get together for the dark cold day in January.

Dulla Bhatti, like Robin Hood, robbed the rich and gave to the poor. The people of the area loved and respected him. He once rescued a girl from kidnappers and adopted her as his daughter. His people would remember their hero every year on Lohri. Groups of children moved from door to door, singing the Dulla Bhatti folk-song: “Dulla Bhatti ho! Dulle ne dhi viyahi ho! Ser shakar pai ho!” (Dulla gave his daughter a kilo of sugar as a marriage gift).

Lohri is essentially a festival dedicated to fire and the sun god. It is the time when the sun transits the zodiac sign Makar (Capricorn), and moves towards the north. In astrological terms, this is referred to as the sun becoming Uttarayan. The new configuration lessens the ferocity of winter, and brings warmth to earth. It is to ward off the bitter chill of the month of January that people light bonfires, dance around it in a mood of bonhomie and celebrate Lohri.

Fire is associated with concepts of life and health. Fire, like water, is a symbol of transformation and regeneration. It is the representative of the sun, and is thus related, on the one hand with rays of light, and on the other with gold. It is capable of stimulating the growth of cornfields and the well being of man and animals. It is the imitative magic purporting to assure the supply of light and heat. It is also an image of energy and spiritual strength. That is why the Lohri fire gets sanctified and is venerated like a deity. On this occasion, people offer peanuts, popcorn and sweets made of til- chirva, gajak and revri – to propitiate fire as a symbol of the sun god.


For the planet we need more parks.

We really like this very honest Earth Story from Nathan.

My name is Nathan and I want to tell you why I like parks.  I’m 13 and starting to be interested in the climate change emergency.  I think older generations have let us down, although I don’t think many people would have known what a mess we would get into, and my generation will change it.

My first memories of parks are from going to Sandwell Valley Park Farm on a Sunday with my mum and dad from when I was about three.  This farm is part of Sandwell Valley Country Park which is a huge area of green surrounded by houses, the River Tame and the M5.  We used to go and see the animals, and even saw a baby calf being born one morning which made my mum cry, and then I would have a farmers lunch box in the little café.

I’ve also spent time over at Bartley Green reservoir with my uncle, and you get a good view of Birmingham from there.  Plus, we’ve visited lots of other parks like the big one in Sutton, Brueton Park near my nans and Kingsbury Water park is good as they have boats racing on the lakes.  They are all different but give us lots of space and fresh air. 

I think that parks are really important, as you can breathe fresh air and exercise.  Some people have never been to a park, and don’t know how good they are, or how much there is to do.  If all families and people were like this, we wouldn’t have parks anymore.  We go for walks all the time, and my mum and dad are always saying hello to people they don’t even know.  The more people that use parks and talk about them, the faster the messages spread which makes everyone want to go.  Only the good ones though, no-one wants to go to the ones with broken goal posts and old playgrounds.

Parks also break up all the buildings.  Birmingham would be boring if it was all houses, flats, factories and offices, we have lots of green and it makes the everything looks nicer and the trees put more oxygen into the air which is good.

I would like there to be more parks in the future.  They don’t have to be big, little parks near where people live, are good as well.  They need to be fun though.  Some parks are all flower beds, and that’s no good for children, make them interesting.  Parks need to be for everyone so keep the flower beds for some old people to look at and have adventure trails where you can get muddy for little children.

For the planet we need more parks.