Nicola Simpson, Urban Wildlife Manager at Gloucester Wildlife Trust
Gloucestershire is often considered to be a rural county, full of countryside and nature. So many people might be confused to find out that Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust (GWT) has an urban programme of work. The county has two major settlements and only one city, Gloucester, which is estimated to have a population size of just 150,000 including its outlying districts. There are pockets of extreme deprivation in the city, with some areas being ranked in the 10% most deprived in the country (according to the Indices of Multiple Deprivation1). In some areas of Gloucester 40% of households don’t have access to a car, compared with 26% across England. These factors often result in lack of access to the wonderful surrounding countryside.
Many areas of the city have large amounts of green space, which are owned by Gloucester City Council. As all councils have limited resources it is becoming increasingly necessary to explore new ways of maintaining local green spaces. GWT aims to realise communities’ aspirations for these spaces, build the involvement of local residents and support them to have greater control and ownership over local spaces. Volunteering has traditionally been a way to engage with local communities in such areas, but with our increasingly busy lifestyles people have less time to volunteer and this can be even more evident in lower-income areas. As such, we’ve used environmental education as an invaluable tool to help develop skills and build pathways to future employment for local people.
This approach is exemplified in Podsmead, an area of Gloucester where GWT has been engaging with the local community since 2016 to manage an underused, but wild green space in the heart of this community. The area was regularly used for antisocial behaviour, including large amounts of fly tipping. As a result, it was seen as an unsafe place to go and local children did not play there. We started by working in partnership with Gloucester City Council and local residents to provide activities aiming to reach out to different parts of the local community. These included drop-in sessions about how to manage habitats, build benches and bird boxes; as well as providing opportunities to learn about the wildlife in Podsmead’s schools.
Following on from this initial phase, a group of younger residents (working with a resident, Lisa) began to take a more active role. This led an enthusiastic group of young people to set up their own social enterprise: the Podsmead Clearance Team. GTW offered activities which helped the young people learn how to manage sites for wildlife. For instance, we offered training on when to cut wildflower meadows to avoid scrub cutting in summer due to nesting birds, as well as other training to enable the young people to develop skills for managing green spaces. They have now been awarded the maintenance contract from Gloucester City Council to maintain green spaces in Podsmead.
Now the Podsmead Clearance Team carry out the management from basic amenity grass cutting to creating better habitats for wildlife in the wilder areas with the skills and knowledge they have gained. The urban ES education skills and learning helped the team create an income and opportunities to build skills in one of the top 10% most income deprived areas of the country; not to mention better quality habitats for our urban wildlife.
On a summer’s day the Podsmead green space is now full of wildflowers, butterflies and day flying moths, along with slow worms and a variety of birds. Local families now use the site to play, sit and enjoy a quiet moment, to connect with nature.
GWT is continuing to support the Podsmead Clearance Team; and we are working with other communities in Gloucester that are looking to adopt a similar model so they can have more control over the management of green spaces in their area.
This article was first published in 2019 in Vol 122 of the NAEE journal which is available free to members. This edition was an Urban Environmental & Sustainability Education special, written with London Environmental Educators’ Forum (LEEF).