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Green Spaces Issue

Issue 4

This quarter's issue is "Maximising community contribution to biodiversity through urban green spaces". The article "Community Values" was first published by Urbio, the magazine of English Nature.

"Not all social groups benefit from parks and green spaces"

Maximising Community Contribution to Biodiversity through Urban Green Spaces

written for Urban Wildlife News

Judy Ling Wong OBE . Director Black Environment Network

90% of Britain's population now live in urban areas. The declining quality of Britain's urban green spaces is now a matter of extensive public concern. As part of the urban renaissance movement, the betterment of urban green spaces is rising up the agenda. There is an opening for the environmental sector to put into place opportunities, within green spaces, for the urban population to come into contact with nature, and enable them to acquire the awareness and understanding to switch on their contribution to biodiversity. The missing contribution still to be gained within the urban population is vast.

In the urban scenario, environmental gain does not stand alone. Here, the agendas of contribution to the natural environment, neighbourhood improvement and social regeneration coincide. The successful engagement of urban based new audiences demands a methodology which draws on joined-up thinking. It is about the bringing together of the social, cultural and environmental agendas, informed by an understanding of human processes.

Twin pillars of sustainable development

Relationship of people to people

Relationship of people to nature

Recognition of the power of the basic human process

We use and enjoy spaces where we are welcome

What we constantly use and enjoy is truly ours

We wish to care for what is ours

Creating and improving urban green spaces for people

Resources for community involvement seem to be everywhere and yet there still seems to be a lack of open familiar places where ordinary people can run into opportunities for knowledge and participation around biodiversity. Urban green spaces is a prime candidate. Urban green spaces can provide hundreds of focal points for change - a web of sites right in the centre of where people are, from urban parks, city farms, commons, cemeteries, council estate grounds, school playing fields, children's playgrounds, community gardens, urban woodlands, to abandoned wasteland. The spotlight now focused on urban green spaces looks forward to betterment and renewal, a chance for many themes to get in at the formative stages of new thinking.

A framework for connecting people and nature in urban green spaces

The environmental sector needs to see clearly and promote its socio-cultural environmental role. This will enable it to build awareness, understanding and commitment to biodiversity within those who run urban green spaces, from Local Authorities to community managers of pocket spaces, and work with them to ensure urban green spaces can be focal points for establishing the awareness and understanding of biodiversity by :

- Strategically ensuring contact with nature within urban green spaces

- Linking activities which promote biodiversity into overall programme of activities within urban green spaces

- Promoting understanding of biodiversity as part of people-centred events, from a teddy bear's picnic night to a Mela

- Linking social, cultural and environmental themes for a broad base for motivation , e.g.Taking on the multi-cultural interpretation of the environment from plant trails of the countries of origin of the global collections of plants and trees within urban green spaces to the diverse names on war memorials giving us insight into Britain's multicultural history

The environmental sector needs to position itself within a socio-cultural agenda and build awareness, understanding and commitment to community development within their own project staff working with biodiversity, so that they have the skills to:

- Reach out and welcome new audiences, working within a socio-cultural environmental agenda

- Work with people whose agendas are not environmental to establish opportunities for contact with and enjoyment of nature

- Design activities which give people information and practical skills so that they are enabled to bring nature into their own lives (From window box projects to assisting in transforming schoolgrounds)

- Initiate projects which link in with everyday themes which connect with nature (An imaginative teacher taught everything there was to know about sustainable development through the journey of a pair of Nike shoes from its creation to its owner's feet and finally to the dustbin! )

- Provide opportunities to for people who have become aware of nature to be exposed to the principles of biodiversity and consistently deepen knowledge in a way which enables them to make a practical contribution or to change their everyday behaviour to protect our environment

- Nurture and support new candidates from every sector of society to enable them to shape and lead activities, and take part in representation and decision-making

- Maximise local partnership work, adopting an inter-agency, cross sectoral approach to project work to involve the community

Where urban green spaces are in decline, programmes around biodiversity and sustainable development can link into a plethora of life-enhancing activities which deliver environmental quality in and beyond green spaces. Where good quality urban parks and green spaces exist, they are deeply loved and enjoyed. People value them as realms of freedom, open to spontaneity and informal pleasures and contemplation, but their inevitable link to greenness is not necessarily capitalised on as an avenue to awareness of the intricacies of the natural world and a consciousness of the vital and powerful role of people within it. The incorporation of the theme of biodiversity as part of the social programme within urban green spaces can make a major contribution not only to the natural environment but to the liveability of the urban environment. The environmental sector is an essential player within urban green spaces, poised to switch on a vast contribution, through urban participation in biodiversity and sustainable development, to the quality of life of generations to come.

Guidance Paper 4 - Biodiversity and Urban Green Spaces
Black Environment Network March '03

The case for using urban green spaces as a focus for education for biodiversity has been made in the paper “Community Values - Maximising Community Contribution to Biodiversity through Urban Green Spaces”. In this guidance paper we will address some themes for development and what can be done to stimulate for awareness of biodiversity in urban green spaces.

The principal agencies responsible for action for biodiversity need to:

• actively build awareness, understanding and commitment for action for biodiversity within the bodies and organisations responsible for green space development.

The more obvious agencies include local authorities, voluntary nature conservation organisations, educational institutions. Linking into these is not new but we need them to stimulate and renew their commitment . They are in charge of:

- urban parks
- city farms
- allotments
- commons
- cemeteries
- schoolgrounds
- urban woodlands
- derelict land

The environmental section is now positioning itself within a socio-cultural agenda. The new challenging targets are those who are in charge of community spaces are on the edge of conversion to commitment to biodiversity and will be lifelong allies if won over. They need education themselves and dynamic stimulating resources at community level. These new diverse and numerous targets (residential social landlords, residents' associations, owners of garden centres, etc.) so very close to people's lives, are in charge of:

- council estate grounds
- housing association estates
- small children's playgrounds
- garden centres
- community centres with any patch of land
- horticultural community based projects
- gardens open to the public and visited for pleasure including those belonging to the National
  Trust or the Historic Houses Association
- specialist plant societies
- gardening clubs
- pocket spaces
- window boxes and balconies (where people with no land simply want to be in contact with   flowers and plants)
- wherever people are given the opportunity to plant something (See Green Space of the Month - Confused Spaces - inspirational project where local people desperate to brighten up a dismal area   have permission to plant something in the most fragmented series of small spaces, down to 3   square feet of soil at a street corner. )

Those who are in charge of planning and designing green spaces, the education of future professionals, representative forums, and those facilitating input by the community also need to be made aware and won over to include elements which feed into education for biodiversity. These include:

- planners
- voluntary groups such as community design services or Planning Aid
- architects
- landscape designers
- urban forums
- relevant departments of universities and higher education institutions
- consultants specialising in running participatory consultation events

strategically create attractive combinations of indigenous plants for green spaces focused on demonstrating the range of issues around biodiversity. For interest, these plants need to be chosen to visually compete for attention against the popular love for the abundantly flowering and colourful garden plants.

build on the new thinking that garden plants are not second class citizens to indigenous plants when it come to providing opportunities for education for biodiversity.

- Action for biodiversity does not just mean fighting for a corner to put in indigenous plants.

- In the urban areas, garden plants are much loved and everywhere, from seasonal bedding in the   Royal Parks, to roundabouts and window boxes on council estates. Education reaches most   people when we start where people already are. Because of the fact that garden plants are plants   and present in profusion in urban areas, they are the ultimate opportunity as a springboard for   teaching processes relating to plants and therefore every principle of biodiversity to vast numbers   of people.

- Garden plants have wildlife value. They bring people in contact with wildlife and build interest in   wildlife and biodiversity.

  At the present time, the Countryside Council for Wales is piloting their “Plants for Wildlife”     project in 3 partner garden centres in Wales. The project is based on a simple but powerful idea -   plants which attract and significantly support wildlife have a Plant for Wildlife label in the pot,   directing people to buy these if they like the idea of birds, butterflies etc. coming into their garden.   Other supportive measures include educational displays and events at the garden centres.

Expand on labelling and interpretation.

Select dramatic single specimens of either indigenous or garden plants and build in the biodiversity dimension among stories, jokes, interesting or ridiculous traditions. The biggest tree in the neighbourhood, the plant with the funniest myth attached to it..... Yes, it is education, education, education, but lets have a range of essential serious stuff embedded effortlessly, entertainingly, and accessibly anywhere - those big words intellectual and physical access.

It is already happening. Countryside Council for Wales' Plants for Wildlife is a breakthrough for a statutory nature conservation agency. BTCV, with its Environment for All project works with a completely open approach with diverse communities. Eden Project is exemplary. At the other end of the scale, voluntary sector organisations like Common Ground and Black Environment Network are shining community based examples working with huge networks combining imaginative social, cultural and environmental themes.

revive Earth Education programmes and lead on training those in charge of green spaces to draw on it. The lively imaginative approach is much needed. Build on the method with new material centred on biodiversity.

Those in charge of green spaces need to:

  • become aware of their potential contribution to education for biodiversity, because urban green spaces embody plants and other features which can act as opportunities for education for biodiversity.
  • identify opportunities to incorporate plants which promote understanding and awareness of biodiversity issues.
  • work with biodiversity organisations to consider and implement programmes of education around garden plants, leading to understanding and awareness of biodiversity issues.
  • be aware that imaginative programmes of education for biodiversity not only play a vital role in the future of our planet and with it the future of all of us, but can also lead to enjoyment and enrichment of the quality of life of the vast numbers of urban bound people they are in touch with.

Can the tail wag the dog ?

Urban green spaces are multiple use, diverse spaces. They are not in the main where action for biodiversity and habitat creation happens. But, we need to capitalise on the fact that urban green spaces give essential and numerous opportunities for promoting awareness and understanding of biodiversity within green spaces. This building block is vitally important.

A last question - can the tail wag the dog ? Is there a focus within the green space community which will take on championing a place for education for biodiversity within urban green spaces, rouse the green space sector, and encourage the nature conservation and biodiversity organisations to get on with green space based and community based partnerships to achieve it ? There are glimmers.

Useful information

  • Earth Education. Institute for Earth Education
  • Common Ground - ABC Project www.commonground
  • Eden Project
  • BTCV Environment for All Project. Information from Richard Williams
  • Countryside Council for Wales - Plants for Wildlife project
  • Community Values - Maximising Community Contribution to Biodiversity through Urban Green Spaces, by Judy Ling Wong OBE. First published in Urbio, Issue 2, English Nature. May'02. Downloadable from the Resources Section of the BEN website as part of the BEN publication Ethnic Environmental Participation Volume 4
  • Green Space of the Month - Confused Spaces. On the BEN website under Participation Section

Download Guidance Paper 4

Green Spaces | Features

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