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

Reflecting on Spring

A Springtime Bike Ride

It’s a sunny April spring morning, with a bit of a chill wind gently blowing, I set out on my bike to ride through my local park/nature reserve buy a newspaper.

The yellow of the Tete-a-Tete daffodils planted by the pathway is fading as they battle with the growing grass that’s about to submerge them.  As I cross the little wooden bridge, I see a cluster of yellow marsh marigolds creeping down the bank towards the gently flowing brook.  I pedal on and the trees no longer look quite so skeletal – they’re starting to show a glimmer of fresh green shoots and powdery catkins dangle down.

Over by the bigger lake, ducks and Canada geese are dosing in the sunshine on the wooden platforms that poke into the lake with their beaks under their wings.  Black headed gulls are crying, circling and settling on the lake.  Otherwise the waterfowl are resting, although I do startle a pair of Moorhens who splash into the lake as I pass.

Coming out of the shop, I cycle round the lake where I spot a sight I wasn’t expecting.  On the island in the middle of the lake a lone swan stands on one leg, preening – an interloper.  There will be trouble when the male swan of the resident pair who call this lake and the nearby ponds their home discovers him.  For the moment our cob is occupied with the task of raising a family by the ponds across the road.   At the usual spot where the pair breeds, he’s relaxing out of the water – sitting pecking at the grass around him, but still near to his mate.  I ride further around the pond and in the reedbeds I spy the pen sitting high on the large nest of sticks and grass they have renovated, safe from the stream flowing past her, dosing in the sunshine.  Last year there were six cygnets, which dwindled down to three juvenile swans, until they suddenly vanished.  I hope they found, or were found, a new home.

I stop and reach up to smell the Blackthorn blossom that’s still blooming at the top of the bush, whilst the leaves are starting to burst into green lower down and will help screen the nest.

Further on, through the hedgerow I glimpse young lambs and their mothers dotted around the green field, some with heads down munching, others resting or frolicking – all enjoying a sunny spring morning. 

I cycle back home to put the kettle on for a warm cup of coffee and settle down to read my newspaper.  Nature has fortified me before I read the tragic news stories from Ukraine.

A short story of spring from Barbara Street

A walk to wonderland: Kinder in Colour

A walk to wonderland: Kinder in Colour 24 April 2022: Toqueer, my journey

Hi, I’m Toqueer Ahmed Quyyam, a Birmingham Friends of the Earth campaigner. There was a dream I had as a child of beautiful hill tops, the wind blowing in my hair, the serenity of the countryside. It felt like heaven. Believe me when I say I have NEVER visited the countryside in this country. I was so excited when I found out through the Birmingham Climate Justice Coalition WhatsApp group that they were organising a trip to mark the 90th anniversary of the first trespass into the Peak District (when walking into the countryside was restricted especially for minorities like myself).

You ask why has it taken me this long? I say to you all, many reasons. One of them is fear, will I be welcome? Many people I know live in towns and cities and feel very disconnected from the great outdoors. It was refreshing to know that Kinder in Colour – a campaign to support better access for minorities – was out there. 

The day of the trip….

It was a beautiful day, there were two mini buses collecting people from Birmingham. What was amazing was to see so many diverse people attend, young and old, many who would like me will be visiting the Peak District for the first time. There was real excitement and after 2.5 hours we had made it.

There were lots of people already there and many coaches were still arriving, there must have been about 500 people there. We got to the starting place and were welcomed by the local people. They had prepared homemade cakes of every kind, from chocolate cake to Victoria sponge and hot drinks too. I spoke to the parish vicar from the local church who told me interesting stories of the history of the area. Did you know that the Normans once lived there? And that the parish churches which dated back centuries still to this day are centres for the community? I thought it was inspiring to know that the community was at the heart of the local people living there.

I got ready, put on my new walking boots and off we went.”Here we go”, I shouted out, heard by the birds flying high, enjoying the vastness of the blue sky. It was an adventure for sure. As we walked, I came across a gushing spring and beautiful trees. As we crossed the bridge, I cried out “Lord behold”, the mountains were breathtaking. I just stood there, stunned. My dream, I thought, came true, there really is a place called heaven and it’s within the Peak District near a village called Edale. 

As we walked up the mountain, it was tough, but most enjoyable. I borrowed a camera which I made good use of by taking lots of photos. I wanted to document my trip to inspire many more minorities to connect with the countryside.

I enjoy meeting new people and as a social person, I was chatting away. I started chatting to a woman and I asked where she was from. She said, “New Zealand”, wow I thought, you are the first person I have met from that country. I asked her to share one interesting thing about herself. She smiled and said her surname means Hobbit in New Zealand. Wow, I thought, how incredible. She asked me the same question. I smiled and said that I do not live too far away from Shire Mill which for those who do not know inspired the author of the Hobbit. What are the chances of that happening? It made me think and reflect. I realised the wonderful qualities of having imagination and dreams, you just never know who or what you may come across and achieve. 

As a climate activist, who works with others, I feel we need to believe in the dream we have of a better, fairer and greener world and work hard to get there. The countryside is great for this as it’s a place of peace, reflection and conversation. We reached the top of the summit after about 2 hours and it was again breathtaking, the view from the top was just stunning. I took a rest for a while and embraced what nature has always given us. The love and compassion could surely be felt. As we left and made our way back, we were just in time for food, it was very delicious. I had rice and a samosa and enjoyed it. It was time to regroup and make our way back to the mini bus.

What a fantastic day, a memory I shall cherish forever. It made us all appreciate the value of the countryside and with the conversations we had on the day. We knew we needed a local Kinder in Colour group so that many more people, especially minorities could access the countryside. I will be very much part of that working group and after this adventure, there will be many more to come.

Thank you, to Kinder in Colour and to the Birmingham Climate Justice Coalition for the visit. Without you this will not have happened.

For further reference:



Written by: Toqueer Ahmed Quyyam, Outreach Campaigner

You can find out more about Toqueer’s green experiences by reading and following his blog: Toqueer Green experience – adventure into green actions and places in Birmingham (wordpress.com)

Nature’s Cradle

A poem from: Dr Ana-Maria Mircea who is working with our team

In this space, this quiet place, I can hear my inner peace

Every step I take into her embrace I can feel the dirt and rocks, shuffle and crack beneath my feet as the breeze caresses my cheek

This green panorama now envelops me, it’s all I can see

My grey thoughts like grey clouds begin to dissipate in her presence

Majestic in her manifestation

This kingdom of earth, green and sky welcomes me

Here, I can just be.

Short Stories

Following a “Storytelling for Communication and Engagement” session I did last year, I received some really interesting feedback around story writing and story telling in general. But also around how simply talking (sharing our day to day stories) can be so beneficial to our mental health. Another theme was how inspirational green spaces can be for both creating stories but also as places to share stories.

This week (31st Jan 2022 to 5th February 2022) we will be sharing some of the Earth Stories we received last year. These stories have actually help shape our City of Nature Plan by providing an insight into people’s relationship with nature and green spaces.

Stories are very powerful and are often used to share important messages, but they can also just be for our entertainment, capturing our imaginations and creating a whole host of thoughts and mini stories fluttering off through our minds like butterflies we may disturb running through a wildflower meadow on a summer day……

Some are bright and cheery and keep nothing hidden – happy to share everything with all those willing to read them and others well, might have more of a twist of the unexpected.

I really like very short stories that stay with you for a thousand times as long as it takes to read them.

Here is a short story from Jeannette, she entered it into a competition – it didn’t win but it got a special mention, so I thought it deserved a special mention here as well.

The Kept Promise

Jack heaved a sigh of relief; the deed was done.  He could go back to his normal life and not look back.  Did she really think he would not keep his promise, or forget what he had pledged?  Forget the pain – the hours waiting, hoping.  But now it was over – a new life beckoned and he wondered what lay ahead.   Tomorrow he would walk the dog and pass by.  And Sally would know that her grave was marked properly and that her Jack had kept his promise.  Be it that only he and the dog actually knew where it was.

Thank you to Jeannette for sharing her short story competition entry and I hope she is still writing and sharing her stories.

Debbie – FPA Community Facilitator

Birmingham’s Greenground Map

We are please to be able to introduce you to a map with a difference – Birmingham’s Greenground map, and to try it out we asked one of our team to see what she thought of it. Hayat has joined us as a Kick Start placement – and she is doing a great job sharing information about parks and green spaces from her own point of view. Here is her Blog:

Hi, I’m Hayat the communications support officer for the Future Parks Accelerator Project. On 7th January I tested out the Greenground map for Birmingham.

The green ground map is the first official map in Birmingham to map the entire city not with streets, areas and postcodes but with parks, canals, waterways, nature reserves and walkways. It was designed by Helen Ilus.

Initially, the plan was to visit 6 parks, but one wasn’t open (Soho House & Garden). In the end I visited 5 parks: Burbury Park, Georges Park, Yellow Park, Philips Street Park and Mansfield Green. I’m very lucky to live in such a close proximity to so many parks. I used the GG map to plan my journey and google maps to reach the parks.

The green ground map is very useful it even has the distance between parks in miles, so you know if it’s within walking distance. It has symbols of the things available in the parks I presume to be perfect when planning a trip with others so you can see that there are activities for everyone to enjoy. The colours of the lines indicate what the route is, for example, orange is for the city centre cultural route.

I decided to rank the parks that I had visited based on their facilities and size. Georges Park came first place as It had a skate park and a 1-mile path marker, it was a decent size too will definitely be visiting it more often 9/10. Second place was Mansfield Green because it had its own outdoor gym and I thought that was useful it had a 50m walking path too and there was a small play area for children. 7/10. Would I visit again? Maybe if it was summer and I wanted to use the outdoor gym.  Yellow Park was my third favourite, it was one of my childhood parks it will always have a special place in my heart, and it has a zipwire so 6.5/10. Philips park and Burbury Park were both tied but Burbury Park wins because it has a basketball court.

Conclusively, the green ground map was efficient, convenient and simple to use. I hadn’t been aware of the number of parks just a short walk from my house. There are photos of all the parks I visited. Will definitely be using the green ground map again. A great and free way to have a fun day out with friends and family.

You can download a copy of the Greenground Map or request a paper version to be posted to you. Please visit our Greenground Map page: https://naturallybirmingham.org/birminghams-greenground-map/

Nature at its core

           Stories are shared in lots of different ways.

They can be read from a book or spoken, or shared through pictures and poems    

Here is Dr Hajra Shah’s story called “Nature at its core”      

Walking down the woods

Holding those tiny hands

Listening to singing birds

Running behind the butterflies

Jumping from that tree stump

I can see the spark in your little eyes

That speak thousand words

The words of hope for the future

Embracing the kindness of nature

Which I will return later

And those words I can hear louder

“Aww mommy nature at its core

It never makes me bore

Let’s go out and explore

Let’s make it safe and secure”

( Dr Hajra Shah, a doctor and a mother)

Dr Hajra Shah has been working with the FPA Naturally Birmingham Project finding out about the benefits nature can provide for our health and wellbeing. Training to be a GP requires her to experience all kinds of different aspects of medical work. It is good to know that your time with the Naturally Birmingham Project inspired such a lovely poem, thank you an good luck for the future as you continue your training.

Parks and Recreation

Humera Sultan – Naturally Birmingham Project Director reflects on the changes that have happen since the project began.

It’s been a long while since I wrote a blog for the Naturally Birmingham website. A lot has happened in the last 18 months. We’ve been living through a global pandemic, adjusting to working and schooling from home.

In all of that, nature has been my saviour. I’ve been learning how to grow with my little boy, Esa (not so little now since he started school). We’ve harvested peppers, chillies, courgettes and pumpkins – all have been delicious, but the journey to watch them go from seed to plant to fruit has been something else. What’s made it even more special is the memories I’ve made with Esa. I’ll never forget the awe on his face when the seed in the yoghurt pot actually started growing a stem. That’s priceless.

During that time, I also set up a Friends of Park group for my favourite local green space, Swanshurst Park. I had a week off from work, and no massive plans given we were in lockdown. My husband put together an email address and poster for me and I got some printed at a local shop. We put them up around the park the next day and handed out leaflets so people knew how to contact me.

Eleven months later, we’ve got £10,000 in funding, got some youth workers in the park, had 2 family fun days, put up nature trails, got extra bins, noticeboards, logs to stop people parking on the grass, a wildflower meadow, started taster sessions in forest school, and have a conservation group. I can’t be more proud of what the group has achieved – it just takes one person to make a leap and before you know it, you have made new friends all wanting to do the best for nature that I can.

In my day job as Director of Naturally Birmingham, things have moved on at a pace – we ran all our pilots, despite being locked down, collected over 150 earth stories from citizens of Birmingham, and we’ve put all our learning into a 25 year plan to create a City of Nature for Birmingham. Thank you top everyone who has helped shape the plan over the course of the project.

Oh and finally – during lockdown, I also got into the American TV series, “Parks and Recreation”, and my husband now calls me Leslie Knope. She’s a passionate woman trying her best every day to protect her local parks –that very much sums up my job, and I love it.

The Future Starts Today

Through the summer we asked people to give us their “Earth Stories”.

Earth Stories don’t need to be epic tales, simply a chance to understand how people connect with nature, hear their memories, find out their fears and hopes and to give us an insight into what people need and how important green spaces are for them. We wanted them to help shape how green spaces are built, managed, and used in the future.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who provided their earth stories and the groups that helped us gather them from their communities. It was wonderful to see the images, hear the recordings and read the “capture of conversations” on paper.

We are going to use the images and stories throughout our City of Nature Delivery Framework document to help make the invisible – visible. Too often in the past the thoughts, wants and needs of communities aren’t seen or heard. We wanted to put them right on the page with the plan so everyone can see them every time we refer to the document and be reminded what it’s all about. We want the future to be different in all the right ways.

During this important week, when not only in Birmingham are we planning a greener bolder future, but the same process is happening for the whole planet at COP26 we want to share some of the stories people shared with us throughout the summer.

It doesn’t take many words to paint a picture and the earth story below provides a brief glimpse into someone else’s life and tells a story that is repeated over and over again – when we have the time to become aware of what is around us, suddenly there are treasures we never knew where there.

I felt like I was in the Countryside

“My green space moment was when walking my dog In Highbury park during lockdown. I could see nothing but trees and grass, hear nothing but the birds and the sun was shining. I hadn’t realised how beautiful the park was (despite living close by). I felt like I was out in the countryside. 
I would like to see parks less manicured, with more meadow areas, orchards and wild play areas for children.”

Don’t Dis-ability Group

We are really pleased to have been working with a group of young people from The Birmingham Children’s Trust “Don’t Dis-ability Group” who have been telling us / showing us why green spaces are important to them.

David’s Garden

Here we find out about David’s garden project:

David’s advice to any young people who are thinking about getting involved with nature or gardening is: “Go ahead. It’s really calming and very educational”

Well done David.

Jessica’s story

Leon’s Story

Tia’s Picture

Jessica’s Picture

Bella’s Story

Thank you to all of the young people who have shared what being outside means to them: Growing potatoes, walking the dog, playing football, keeping calm and peaceful, being as loud as you want!